Names of all clients have been changed.
Even the happiest couples have arguments, and for some couples, those arguments can escalate and become destructive. If you find that your arguments sometimes result in:
- Explosive yelling
- Dragging past issues into the current argument
- Passive aggressive or emotional manipulation
- Denying the other person’s experience (gaslighting)
- Blaming the other person or avoiding responsibility
You might need some strategies for arguing from a place of love, instead of a place of destruction.
Below you will find eight starting points to help you fight from a place of love.
Don’t forget who you are arguing with
First things first: you are not arguing with your nemesis. You are, instead, arguing with your partner. It is important to try as hard as possible to align yourself in your heart with this person you love, even as you are fighting.
It can be very helpful to remember that the goal of the argument is to resolve the current issue and return to a place of mutual affection and respect.
Remember you and your partner are different from each other
Your partner may never entirely agree with you, and that’s OK. In fact, that’s why you love your partner, for his or her unique point of view. When arguing, it’s easy to forget this truth and instead feel frustrated that your partner is “being so stubborn” by “disagreeing with everything you say.”
This kind of all-or-nothing thinking makes it difficult to see a way through the argument and can cause it to drag on or escalate unnecessarily. When you find yourself feeling like every disagreement is a personal affront it helps to realize that we don’t need to resolve every small point, our primary desire is to feel understood.
Keep it small
Arguments have a tendency to grow. What starts as a discussion about who will put the dishes away turns into an examination of who does the most household chores, which turns into a treatise on whose preferences dictate every decision in the relationship. While all of these issues may very well need some discussion (this is what we do in therapy), they don’t all need to be considered right now.
When you find your argument spiraling into “everything is wrong and it’s all your fault” you may want to take a break and force yourself to remember the nexus of the argument and contain your discussion to this point only. You will both feel better (and will be better able to discuss larger points) when this individual point is behind you.
Take a break if you feel ready to explode
It’s all well and good to advise that you stop to consider your partner’s perspective and work to contain your argument to only the salient points, but there can come a point in an argument where rational thought and objective reasoning are no longer possible. If you reach the point where you feel close to exploding, it’s probably best that you walk away.
Taking a break to give yourself an opportunity to regain control and find your balance before re-engaging your partner is critical for the long-term health of your relationship. If you find it difficult to prevent explosions, it is a good idea to work with a therapist so that you can gain more control, and preserve your relationship.
Listen to your partner
When arguing, it is human nature to want your point of view to be heard. When both partners are only focused on getting their own point across, however, it’s unlikely that either partner will really feel understood. This has a tendency to extend the argument. As both partners interrupt the other to assert their own opinion, neither really listens.
The best thing to do in an argument is to truly listen to your partner. When you feel that you understand his or her point of view, you restate what you have heard and ask whether you understood it. You can also ask your partner to tell you what they think you are upset about. This can surface many useful details and point the way to a resolution where both partners feel heard, and sometimes can defuse the conflict entirely.
Beware of Criticism
The goal of an argument is to solve a specific problem and repair hurt feelings. It’s easy to devolve into insults and broad accusations. Criticism of the character of your partner rather than their specific behavior can cause the argument to spiral and grow, rather than resolving the problem at hand.
Rather than accusing your partner of “always doing this” or “never admitting that,” focus on their actual behavior and your own feelings about their behavior. One strategy is to use “I” statements. Not, “You are always so selfish.” but instead, “When you didn’t text me that you would be late, I felt dismissed and unimportant.”
Beware of Contempt
Contempt in a relationship is one of the strongest predictors of divorce, so you want to be very cautious when you feel tempted to express it. Contempt is an expression of superiority and disgust and can involve eye rolling, name calling, sarcasm, and mockery. When contempt enters a conversation, things get mean, personal, and hostile.
To avoid contempt, you need to build an environment of respect, always. Respect when things are going well, of course, but also respect is even more important during an argument. When things start to get hostile, although it may be difficult, focus your attention on what you appreciate about your partner. This can dispel some of the contempt, and put the argument back on the right track.
If contempt has made its way into your relationship regularly, you should work with a therapist to re-establish an environment of respect.
Beware of Stonewalling
While it can sometimes feel like the best idea to “walk away” from an argument to “avoid something we’ll both regret,” stonewalling is an ineffective strategy long term. When you withdraw from the conversation without resolving anything, it can isolate both you and your partner, leaving you alone with your hurt, and anger. Stonewalling is often an attempt to control the relationship, and can create despair and loneliness.
Instead of shutting down the argument completely, take a 20-minute break and then return to continue the fight. A relationship relies on communication and avoiding communicating about hurt feelings only leads to more hurt feelings. You want to build some understanding and resolution by the end of the fight, not create a wall of despair.
You can learn to fight with love
Remember you are fighting with someone you love.
Therefore, fighting is not the absence of love.
In fact, love is the ingredient that will make an argument ultimately serve the relationship, but we must actively bring it there.
Your thoughts and feelings are important. So are the thoughts and feelings of your partner. An argument cannot be resolved without respecting both of those truths.
Though it takes practice and consideration, these skills can be developed.
Therapy can help. Let me show you how. Learn about my relationship counseling services here.