Arguments are common in all kinds of relationships. Some degree of conflict can even be healthy, as it means both people are expressing themselves, rather than keeping everything inside and letting emotions fester.
But if you’re arguing all the time, or simple disagreements end up in a hostile silence or screaming match, it can really start to take its toll – or even leave you wondering whether you’re all that compatible.
Learning ways to handle disagreements constructively is crucial in any relationship.
Find out why you’re arguing
Think of an argument like an onion. The outer layer is what you’re speaking about, while the deeper layers represent the issues beneath.
In other words, sometimes what we argue about is only a symptom of what’s going wrong, not the cause.
If you find you and your partner argue frequently, or about the same kinds of things a lot, think about what’s really causing the conflict. Are you arguing about what you think you’re arguing about? Or, are there other things going on the relationship that are frustrating or worrying you?
Consider other influences too: have there been any recent changes in your lives that may have put extra pressure on either of you, like a bereavement, starting a new family, moving house, financial problems, work pressures or just a reaching a relationship milestone such as a big birthday.
Maybe you’ve been spending less quality time together than before? Has there been an incident that one or both of you is struggling to get over? Did you used to argue less? And, if so, why do you think that is?
Seeing past your emotions and trying to look at the wider context of the situation may help get to the bottom of what’s going on.
Talking it over
From there, it’s a case of talking things over in a calm and constructive manner.
♣ Choose an appropriate time to talk. If you think you’re going to struggle with your emotions, it may be worth coming back to the topic when you’ve both calmed down. Likewise, it’s a good idea to have the conversation at a time when you’re both able to focus on it – not immediately before someone has to go to work or with the TV on in the background.
♣ Try to start the discussion amicably. Don’t go in with all guns firing, or with a sarcastic or critical comment. It can be useful to start by saying something positive, such as: ‘I feel like we were getting on really well a few months ago. I was hoping we could talk about how much we’ve been arguing recently.’
♣ Use ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements. This will mean your partner is less likely to feel under attack, and you’ll be taking responsibility for your own emotions. For instance, instead of saying: ‘You never listen to me’, try saying: ‘I feel like I’m not being heard when I talk to you’.
♣ Try to see things from your partner’s perspective. A conversation is unlikely to go anywhere productive unless both participants feel listened to. It can be tempting to just try to get your point across, but if you want to resolve things, it’s really important you take the time to hear what your partner has to say too. They may have an entirely different perspective – one you’ll need to understand if you want to get to the root of what’s going wrong. Try to validate each other’s feeling by saying things like: ‘It makes sense to me that you feel like that.’ Making your partner feel heard can be hugely powerful.
♣ And remember: you may not just be arguing the surface problem. As much as we like to believe our partners will – or rather, should – always understand where we’re coming from, the truth is they’ve grown up with their own ideas and with different influences. For instance, if you think they’re controlling with money, it may be that their role model when they were younger was in charge of all financial affairs – so they’ve always assumed that’s how things work.
♣ Keep tabs on physical feelings. If things are getting too heated, take time out and come back once you’re both feeling calmer. Saying something you later regret because you were really worked up is only going to make the fight worse and can leave feelings seriously hurt.
♣ Be prepared to compromise. Often, the only way to reach a solution is for both partners to give some ground. If both of you stick rigidly to your desired outcome, the fight will probably just continue. It might be that one or both of you needs to compromise a little so that you’re able to move past things. Sometimes, an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all.
If you’d like to talk about any of these issues with one of our counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.