Managing arguments in relationships
All of us argue – life would be extraordinary if we didn't. Some of us really enjoy a good argument, others find conflict in any form both difficult and distressing. In this article we are going to look at two different patterns of arguments, damaging and constructive and then 10 tips to help us to manage arguments better.
So what might damaging patterns of our disagreements look like?
If you feel attacked by your partner during an argument it is all too easy to defend yourself by attacking back. This doesn’t help either you or your partner to get a clear picture of the story and it is likely to make both of you feel attacked and blamed by each other. This may make it seem as though both of you are trying to put the problem onto the other person, or point score.
Using words that are guaranteed to upset your partner or criticising their behaviour rather than sticking to what you are trying to discuss. By doing this it is possible to deflect attention from the actual reason for the row and can make the argument turn into a more general attack on each other. An insult exchange!
When we argue destructively we use sarcasm, fighting talk, mocking and belittling each other. This is used to wound and humiliate your partner and can easily erode mutual respect. If you never sort out your arguments then you are likely to carry them on into the next one and neither of you will ever feel you find any resolution.
Refusing to enter into negotiations/conversations
This is a well-known defence mechanism. If there is no engagement how can there be a resolution? If we are not talking to each other how can we find solutions? It means that one or both partners are left carrying resentment.
Let us move onto what a more constructive approach might look like:
Try and be friendly
Think about what you want to say to each other and what you want to achieve from the conversation you are having. Talk to each other in a positive way and be firm with yourself to make sure you stay positive and try not to get wound up or side-tracked.
Why is your partner behaving like that?
Look out for hidden agendas. Are you thinking you are talking about one thing but they are talking about something quite different? Clarify what you are talking about and try, if the conversation wanders, to bring it back to what you agreed to talk about.
Take responsibility for your own responses and how you are feeling
This is asking you to be aware that you may have a hidden agenda too and you may need to realise that you may be feeling something that is building on something from the past which has nothing to do with your current argument.
Such a little word with such a huge depth of meaning. If both of you can feel that you have got something you were asking for then this can be really positive. If this is going to happen both of you may have to give something. Talk about what you both want, listen to what your partner is saying then between you try and come up with a solution that leaves you both feeling that you have achieved an agreement.
So that is positive and negative patterns of arguments. We are going to move onto a more practical approach to conflict management. What follows is 10 tips for managing your disagreements. These will not always work but may give you both a chance to get the resolution you want and need.
1. Agree that there is conflict between you. Hoping that it will just go away or fix itself if ignored may make matters worse.
2. If either of your feelings are running high then agree to have a cooling off period before you tackle the problem. If you agree a certain time then make sure you both stick to it (even if you agree to extend the period come back together so you don't feel additional resentment).
3. Stick to the subject that you have agreed to talk about. Try not to bring up items from the past. If you do nothing gets sorted out.
4. Don't make it too personal. Pointed criticism or blaming each other, for example ‘You always... ’ Or ‘You never... ’ causes more anger and frustration and raises the temperature – It’s like wagging your finger at each other.
5. Try for a resolution which is a win-win situation. If one of you thinks they have been unfairly treated (or that other people will think they have been) they will look for a chance to reopen the situation or turn the tables.
6. It is important to listen to the way your partner sees what is going on; feelings should be heard and acknowledged. It will help each of you if you try and understand the other’s point of view. Understanding does not signify agreement! A little humour may help to enable you to hear one another.
7. Having a tantrum or using manipulative behaviour such as tears, sighs, hurt, silence, anger need to be contained. Try not to get drawn into them. Have a break of some kind, put your conversation on hold and then when things have calmed down go back to sorting things out.
8. Once you have heard each other out and understand better where the conflict lies, see if there is anything you can both agree on.
9. Try to come up with lots of different solutions and put them all out there for discussion, there are always more than you think there are.
10. Do not allow the discussion to go on forever; it will just become circular and can increase your frustration. Agree at the end of the time you have allocated (shouldn't be more than half an hour) to review where you are and what needs to happen next.
We hope that you have found this article useful and look forward to hearing your feedback.
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About Clare Francis
Clare attained her masters degree in relationship and family therapy from the University of Hull in 2011. Clare works with families, young people and individuals. Clare also manages a thriving private practise which she currently runs from Twickenham and Staines. She has also worked for Relate since 2008. She is a Member of the BACP.