Arguments are a good thing. So how do you make the most of them?
I recently read a study that found that more than 40 percent of couples believe that fighting helps keep the lines of communication open. Tackling problems head on can be better for a relationship than bottling things up. But as experts point out, not all arguments are created equal.
My husband and I had very different role models growing up. My husband's mother and father were big on sweeping disagreements under the rug. On the opposite end of the spectrum were my hotheaded folks. They were constantly engaged in open warfare.
Needless to say my husband and I were left to navigate the confusing landscape of how to deal with conflict on our own. During our early years, we each had our go-to strategies. My husband's was to suffer in silence "What's wrong?" I would ask. "Nothing" he would reply. Mine was to deploy my well-honed sarcasm. "What's wrong?" he would probe. "Seriously?" I would retort.
So what are some best practices for a good fight? Here are five.
Don't dredge up the past.
While it may seem like a good idea to pack all of our ammunition by giving as much "evidence" to support our side of the argument, it isn't. No one likes to be reminded of their past failings as a spouse, or having a partner who "keeps score."
Focus squarely on the issue at hand. Putting parameters around the argument will make it easier to constructively and objectively resolve it.
Don't be dramatic.
Exaggeration like, "You never thank me for all the work I do around here," can make our partners feel worthless and cast doubt on our credibility. Giving dramatic ultimatums like, "I am never going to your office party again because you ignore me" doesn't leave a lot of room for compromise.
Acknowledging the times (even if we think they are few and far between) where our partner did meet our expectations (e.g., thanked us for the work we did) helps us both learn from the past, so that we can do better in the future.
Would we yell at our boss, the rude store clerk, or the bratty kid next door? No, because it just makes us look like the crazy one, and tarnishes our reputation. We owe our partner's as much respect (actually more) than we owe to others. Yet, sometimes we reserve our worst behavior for those whom we love the most because we think it is ok to "be ourselves."
Keeping our cool makes it easier for our partner to listen to the content of our message, rather than reacting to the emotion. This also minimizes the likelihood of them yelling back, or storming off in a huff--not conducive to resolving conflict!
Don't draw comparisons to their mother or father.
Name calling such as, "You're just like your mother"; "You are a stubborn donkey," or "No normal person thinks this way" is aggressive and immature. Words can sting, and we can't take them back.
It takes thoughtful reflection to frame and contextualize an issue well enough to express it articulately. Name calling is not thoughtful. Being very specific about our beef, what we are hoping for as an outcome, and the constructive solutions we want to explore is a better tactic.
Don't try to win at all costs.
Arguing with our partner should not be like wanting to be the victor in a boxing match. A domestic dispute is not a competitive sport. It's more like a good rally in tennis, trying to keep the play in motion rather than a knock-out that leaves someone bloody on the floor.
There is a proverb, "God gave us two ears and one mouth, and so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak." This holds true in how we should argue. We can only move to a better place in our relationship if we truly listen to what our partner needs to tell us. And our partner will be more forthcoming to voice their concerns if they know that we will listen, not cut them off with our "better" arguments, or bully them into submission.
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. But how we deal with it can either make us stronger as a couple through deeper insights about our partner's needs, or leave us bruised and resentful that we haven't been understood by the person we love the most in this world. The choice is ours.
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