Arguing is a normal part of all relationships and can be helpful in helping couples learn about each other and resolve differences. BUT there is a difference between fighting to hurt each other and simply disagreeing about something. Many couples get caught in a destructive cycle in which they look for who is wrong or who is to blame for the disagreement rather than coming together to resolve the issue.
It is not the fact that the house is not clean or that there hasn’t been a date night in a while, but the deeper needs that we all have to be loved, respected, and cared for that is the real reason for the upset. As we get in touch with our need for connection to our partner and learn to trust them to be there for us when we are upset or in danger, we begin to be able to express our upset in a way that allows both partners to come together to solve the issue. A partner is more able to hear what their partner is feeling rather than a litany of their perceived failures or faults.
Even couples that have a relationship that is based on trust and open communication can still find themselves periodically caught in a destructive cycle of arguments. The quality that most helps these couples stand out from couples that are heading for divorce or a cold war is that there is agreement on the ground rules for how to handle disagreements.
Ten ground rules for healthy disagreements:
- Accept that disagreements are ways that you can explore differences between you and learn more about yourselves. Conflict doesn’t have to be seen as negative or something that will cause permanent damage to the relationship. Arguments happen in every relationships
- Avoid stating the problem as an issue with the other person, or by blaming the other person for the uncomfortable situation. Criticism or personality assassination is counterproductive and leaves people feeling defensive and hurt. Blame and contempt will quickly become an infinite feedback loop that is destructive to the very fabric of the relationship
- Create quiet time to discuss the problem. Listening respectfully to each other, without interrupting, will allow each person to feel that their thoughts have been expressed and heard. We need time to explore differences and learn about ourselves and that cannot happen if someone brings up a beef right before bedtime or when they are running out the door in the morning.
- Breathe!! We tend to get agitated when we are upset which often leads to screaming, crying, or shutting down. None of these modes of communicating really allow us to express what we are feeling and certainly doesn’t allow our partners to really hear what is disturbing us
- Allow yourself to be curious and inquisitive about exactly what it is that your partner is troubled about. Ask questions that will help you to fully understand why they are upset and especially what they are feeling about the situation
- Work to slow down the process of discussing this sticky issue. When we get upset, we tend to jump in head first without fully understanding exactly what has made us upset. Remember that the issue that seems like the reason for the fight is really masking the deeper, more sensitive emotions that have gotten triggered
- Stay away from the nitty-gritty details of the incident. The details are not important and tend to hijack a couple’s ability to learn what the emotions are that are driving the upset
- Take breaks when discussing difficult issues so that you can each have the time you need to regroup, be certain about what is really going on and remain calm
- Find points of agreement so that you both can feel that there is possibility for reaching a settlement. When we see that there are many places that we agree with each other we are more able to work through the places where there is disagreement or an impasse
- Be sure to acknowledge your love and admiration for your partner. Even if you are angry the feelings of love are there (though they may be hidden at the moment), and we especially need to be reassured of our partners love when we are feeling upset and distant
With practice couples can learn to face disagreements without disrupting the underpinnings of their relationship. There are no bad guys in the relationship and approaching your partner with this in mind will help you to weather the inevitable storms of your relationship without causing the ship to run aground.