More time together can mean more time arguing about the same old things – going round and round in circles without getting anywhere. But arguments don’t have to be this way. Lee Rodwell explains.
Some say that finding a couple who never argue is like hunting for unicorns. But psychologists suggest that may not be a bad thing.
Arguments can be a way of clearing the air and creating opportunities for relationships to change and grow – while bottling up your emotions can lead to resentment and frustration.
Indeed, marriage researcher Professor John Gottman found that in the early stages of a relationship, couples who rarely argued were happier than those who had regular spats – as you might expect. But three years later it was the bickering pairs who were more likely to still be together in a stable relationship.
Professor Gottman notes: “For a marriage to have real staying power, couples need to air their differences. Rather than being destructive, occasional anger can be a resource that helps the marriage improve over time.”
Learn how to have better arguments
Problems often arise not because we argue, but because we argue badly. And an argument doesn't have to be angry and hurtful – even if it can easily turn that way.
So how do you have an argument that doesn’t end up with one of you sulking and the other in tears? How can you turn a row into a win for both of you?
Christine Northam, a relationships counsellor for Relate, says: “It’s how you argue that makes a difference. You need to dissipate anger – to negotiate a settlement without ending up feeling livid.”
Relate counsellors often suggest a tried and tested technique to help. She says: “Each of you has five minutes to say what they feel and think, without interruption. While one talks, the other listens. At the end of the ten minutes you both get up and walk away and wait for 24 hours. That way you contain your anger and have time to process what has been said.
“Then you go back and give each other feedback. You can say you’ve thought about what you said. You can add to what you said initially, or say you’ve changed your mind. You can say: ‘That is not what I really meant – this is how I feel.’”
Get ready to rumble
Christine adds that it’s also important to clear the decks before having an argument. If you and your partner have something important to discuss, you both need to give it your full attention.
Switch off your phone, turn off the tv, make sure nothing is going to distract or interrupt you.
And don’t load the dishwasher and argue at the same time. It sends out the message that your relationship doesn’t need your full attention — and it makes your other half feel like you’re not listening, even if you think you are.
Christine adds that it is important to work out what you are really arguing about. “Are you just cross because he didn’t clean the car, or she left the bathroom in a mess – or is it actually about something else?
“And try to phrase things in a non-blaming way. Use phrases like: ‘When this happens, this is what I feel.’ Avoid saying: ‘You always’ or ‘You never’.”
She says it can also be useful to ask yourself how you talk to your partner. “Is this the way you’d talk to a friend or a colleague? What difference would it make if you talked to your partner the way you talk to others? And what happens when you don’t talk to your partner that way?”
TOP TIPS for better arguments
Stick to the subject
Don’t rehash every disagreement you’ve ever had, or bring up grievances you’ve been nursing for ages. Vow never to let the phrase ‘and another thing…’ slip from your lips.
Listen more than you speak
Actually hearing what your partner has to say gives you a much better chance of resolving your issue. If you fail to hear them out, they will probably do the same to you. And don’t tune out while they are talking in order to plan what you’re going to say next. Listen. Really listen.
Be ready to admit and apologise
When you make a mistake, admit it - and apologise if appropriate. It shows you are willing to take responsibility and put things right. Don’t go into denial or become defensive. That will just escalate the situation.
Complain but don’t criticize
A complaint is specific and states how you feel. ‘I am upset because you didn’t wash up.’ A criticism is broader and includes blame. “You never wash up.’ Contempt adds insult to the criticism. ‘You slob. Why don’t you ever wash up your plate?’
Learn how de-escalate a fight
Show you’re listening by repeating back your partner’s words: ‘It sounds like you’re saying …’ Use non-threatening words to disagree or put your point of view; ‘Maybe..’ ‘What if …’ Acknowledge their feelings: ‘I know this is hard for you too.’ Ask open-ended questions: ‘What are your thoughts?’
Use the power of touch
If the situation seems to be heading towards boiling point, sometimes holding hands or just a giving your partner a gentle touch can help you feel connected and take the heat out of the situation.
Stop fighting to win
In order to win a fight, you have to make yourself right, and the other person wrong. But there doesn’t have to be a victor and a loser. What you really want is a win for the relationship – a way of moving forward that works for both of you. So try to be open to new ideas and feedback. They may be an opportunity for change and growth.
This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.