It’s so easy to get drawn into arguments over all kinds of things, it’s part of living in a close relationship, our different personalities, expectations and desires clash …BOOM! The words start to fly and we can easily say things we later regret.
Conflict is a normal part of relationships and arguing with your partner isn’t a sign that you’re not meant to be together.
It is possible to argue well, where the outcomes are positive, and we grow in understanding of each other as people as well as growing closer in our relationship.
To argue well we need to put the brakes on anything that inflames the issue and is likely to turn it into a war of the words.
It’s natural and tempting to recognise the unhelpful traits in our partner but it’s worth reminding ourselves that we can only change ourselves, not other people …even if we’d like to!
The good news is that as we change the way we behave it can result in different outcomes, changes in the dynamic of the relationship, and ultimately is more likely to lead to change in the other person.
Below are some things it’s better NOT to say if you want your argument to go well.
“You make me angry!”
We are responsible for our own feelings. If we feel angry it’s because of something going on inside of us and the anger is a signal that something is important to you and needs attention. It’s good to think about what that underlying trigger is that is causing your anger and dealing with that. This takes self-control, perhaps time to reflect, and practice.
Instead of saying…
“You made me so angry when I came home from work and saw all the dirty dishes from the night before.”
“I felt very angry when I came home from work and saw the pile of dirty dishes from the night before, which you said you’d clear up, because I feel it’s only fair that we each clean up our mess and do what we say we’re going to do.”
“You made me very angry when I heard you had been out with your friends.”
“I felt very angry and incredibly let down when I heard you had been out with your friends, because you had promised me you would come home early and we’d bath the baby together.”
Obviously, your tone of voice and body language are also important.
People tend to express anger in different ways. The Toucan Together Conflict Module will help you identify your typical conflict style and positive ways of managing your emotions.
“It’s your fault…”
We naturally want to blame shift and so we point the finger, but blaming and shaming aren’t helpful because they have the effect of punishing the other person. If we’re in the habit of blaming our partner, then it’s likely they feel that they can’t please you and may feel bitter and resentful over time.
To argue well, take responsibility for your feelings and actions, seeking to find a positive resolution of whatever the issue is by talking calmly, listening and trying to find a solution together.
“I’m right …you’re wrong.”
It may be unconscious, but some people argue to ‘win’ and prove their partner wrong. They will keep on saying things to make their point and show that they are ‘right’. A relationship where there are winners and losers isn’t likely to last long because over time you’re unlikely to find ways of living that suit both of you and your partner will get fed up.
If you recognise this tendency within yourself then ask yourself where you learned it, why ‘scoring the point’ matters so much and what would happen if you concede your partner’s view? Work on listening to understand your partner and be willing to admit you are wrong so you can find resolution over issues together.
“You always” | “You never”
Words like “always” and “never” can so easily slip out in the heat of the moment: “you’re always running to your mother!”; “you never fill up the car with petrol.”
The trouble is that “always” and “never” are accusing and attacking words. Ban them.
It’s likely that people who regularly use “always” and “never” are stuck in repeated cycles of behaviour, which can be very frustrating for everyone. It’s really worth trying to do things differently, to manage arguments more positively, to resolve issues and find solutions. If this isn’t possible then you may want to seek the support of wise mentors or a professional counsellor.
“You idiot! You’re so %#**@!”
Name calling, sarcastic remarks and verbal put downs are often said in the heat of the moment, but that’s not an excuse because they attack and hurt the person on the receiving end. You may feel a momentary release of the angry emotions when you use strong language, but they do not help resolve issues. The reverse is true, and your partner is likely to ‘dig in’ to defend themselves.
Shouting, like name calling, is about venting emotion; it’s also intimidating and can be a form of bullying. If you feel like shouting count to 10 or take time out to calm down.
Nagging and other forms of going on and on…
Women who repeatedly ask for something to be done are told they are “nagging’. Men can nag too; it’s just that different language is used: “I need you to be reasonable” … “I need to talk sense into you.”
Going on and on is unlikely to achieve a good outcome because your partner will probably get fed up and defensive. Make time to have a calm conversation and take turns talking and listening to discuss the problem and look for solutions.
“And another thing…”
Bringing up the past and or other problems clouds the issue and is another unhelpful form of verbal attack. Talking about one issue at a time is more likely to lead to healthy resolution.
It’s normal to develop habits and struggles in the way we communicate. Toucan Together’s Conflict Module helps you identify your conflict style and positive strategies for managing arguments in healthier ways. Start by taking our research-based ‘Pulse’ quiz to find out where you’re at in your relationship and get personalised recommendations. GET STARTED | LOG IN