How to argue respectfully
Arguments are a common ingredient in most relationships as we aim to successfully negotiate differences of understanding or perspective. However, whilst arguments can help “clear the air” and move things forward, they can also be highly destructive and put distance between couples which can lead to an increasing pattern of arguments and distance that undermine the relationship.
Having a constructive argument is a skill and takes a thoughtful approach to what you wish to achieve as a couple. Whilst emotions can run high as we enter an argument it is important that our focus is on being assertive and not aggressive. Our aim should be to be heard and understood and not to hurt. Furthermore, an aggressive approach is not likely to bring the best out from our partner who will most likely feel attacked which could provoke retaliation.
The aim of the argument should be to find a solution and not to prove someone right or wrong. Building bridges will be more helpful than pursuing victory. Using “I” statements to explain your feelings will help avoiding blaming someone. Saying “I feel let down when you don’t tidy up” is more open than saying “You never tidy up after yourself”. The last statement is also unhelpful because it is an example of “totalising” where statements using words as “never” or “always” are highly unlikely to be true and will lead your partner to feel unfairly characterised.
Take time to clarify what you feel you have heard from your partner, so you understand their intent and not just react, in the heat of the moment, to what you think they mean. Often arguments can get much worse because of the assumption we place on what our partner has said which may later turn out to be wide of the mark. Another approach to help avoiding this is to tackle one issue at a time and stick with that particular incident/behaviour until you both feel it has been dealt with.
However, it is also worth considering that not all issues can be dealt with in one argument, or if things are very heated that continuing may be counterproductive. So, having a break or time-out can be helpful so long as you both commit to returning to resolve the issue at a later date.
Finally, it is never appropriate/acceptable to be abusive either physically or verbally. Calling names, pushing, restraining, hitting and other forms of abuse are hugely damaging and have no place in a loving relationship. Approaching arguments with honesty, sensitivity and love will yield the best results and support your relationship to grow in mutual respect.
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About Eugene Gallagher
Eugene Gallagher is a relationship therapist and works with individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship-based issues. Eugene has an MA in relationship therapy and is an accredited member of the BACP.