In this post, you will learn:
- What healthy arguing looks like
- Techniques to fall back on
- The importance of empathy
What is Healthy Arguing?
For most of this course, we have covered a lot about conflict and communication. Let’s take a moment to reflect back on what the most important aspects of a healthy relationship are: A gentle approach to conflict and maintaining a good friendship. We have suggested many ways to reestablish friendship in your relationship, but we have concentrated so much on conflict and communication during conflict in particular because that’s probably the hardest part of any relationship. Most of us argue in the manner we were taught while growing up, repeating behaviors and phrases straight from our parents’ mouths.
We suggest coming to conflict in a method that may seem pretty alien to most. Instead of hiding things in implications or giving silent treatments or even jumping in to solve the problem at hand, we suggest baring honest emotions in a gentle manner. That’s because that’s what you and your partner both deserve. Having a healthy relationship does not mean you will never argue again. It means you will be prepared to argue healthily, with respect and kindness shown to your partner, and with hope that this will be modeled to your children.
Emotional Intimacy Revisited
We spoke before about emotional intimacy. Keeping in tune with your emotional state and the constant shift of your needs in both calm and aggravated times makes for a healthy argument. When attempting a new method of arguing, stick to formalities until you really get the swing of it.
Here’s a good practice example:
- When situation happens,
- I feel emotion
- because I want unmet need
Fill in the blanks for the three underlined phrases.
When the kitchen isn’t clean, I feel frustrated because I want a fair balance of house duties.
When you don’t make an effort to be on time for our dates, I feel sad because I want to spend time with you.
Try to break down a few previous arguments into this exact phrasing, seeking the “please” in the original argument.
For instance, “When the kitchen isn’t clean, I feel frustrated because I want a fair balance of house duties” could be the “please” from an ill-worded, “I thought I told you to clean the dishes. You never help out with anything. I’m always picking up after you.”
But let’s pick this apart further with a few more basic tips:
- Request, don’t demand. Mind your manners when it comes to your partner. If you’re ingrained with incessant nagging or a vicious cycle of demands, take a step back. Would you speak to a colleague this way? Imagine your partner as your colleague in life.
- Stick to specifics of the situation, being careful to not over-generalize. Saying words like “always,” and “never” in an argument are usually untrue and also may put your partner on the defense. Try instead to use a phrase like, “some of the time.”
- Stick to the behavior or the situation, leaving your partner’s character on the sideline. We all have faults and during an argument, when both partners are feeling vulnerable, it is perhaps the worst time to lob criticism and judgments, both of character and previous experiences with the partner.
Know When to Take a Break
Maybe you have reached a point in your argument when you or your partner has sent out multiple speedbumps for the conversation and they are going unnoticed. Maybe one of you is tightening up physically, anger welling inside your chest or sadness making you tear up. It’s time for a break in the discussion before someone does or says something they will regret.
Feel free to let your partner know you need space and then take it. Go do something comforting for yourself. It takes approximately twenty minutes for your body to cool down from being wound up by stress or anger. Read a book, take a walk, take a bath, step outside and breathe. Do not try to address the issue with your partner until twenty minutes has passed. But also do not allow the issue to go UN-discussed for longer than a day, because stifling issues will only make them fester and explode in the future.
Empathy is the ability to understand another person and how they are feeling. Often empathy and sympathy are used interchangeably. However, they are slightly different. Sympathy is recognizing a person’s emotions at a distance. Often expressing sympathy can come across as pity or feeling sorry for someone. Empathy recognizes how another person feels and goes a step further by placing oneself in the situation with the person and gaining a better understanding and compassion.
By better understanding your own emotions, it becomes easier to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagine how you would feel in their situation. You may also have better understanding into what triggered the emotion of your partner. By having greater empathy for others, you can help them feel accepted and understood.
Look back on your most recent argument you had with your partner. What aspects of it worked for the two of you? Did you make up for lost ground pretty quickly? Were you able to remain relaxed throughout its duration? What aspects did not work? Did you feel criticized or overly critical yourself? Did you say hurtful things intentionally? What could you do better next time? Go over this with your partner and get their thoughts on it as well.