Fighting Fair: Finding a Healthy Way to Argue

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Photography by  Arah McManamna

Photography by Arah McManamna

In any relationship or friendship, it is part of human nature that conflicts arise. However, arguing a part of any healthy relationship. Avoiding arguments builds up frustrated feelings and then your relationship is a ticking time bomb. Too often, arguments get out of control and we say things we don’t mean to people we love dearly. While everyone is aware this can happen and tends to be forgiving of things said during a heated fight, sometimes the damage can’t be undone or forgotten and those little fights start to wear away at an otherwise wonderful relationship. Finding a healthy and fair way to argue helps arguments become more productive. Below are some tips to get you started.

What Are You Fighting For?

Before you get into an argument with your partner, be aware and mindful of what it is you’re fighting about. It’s important to stick to that issue and stay in the present. Fights that start off about one issue can easily veer off into others that are dug up from the past, which adds no new insight or information. It’s okay to argue, it’s part of a relationship, but try to keep to the relevant issue at hand.

Avoid Absolutes & Extremes

In the heat of the moment, for dramatic effect and to drive our point home, we often lean on absolutes. “You never wash your dishes” or “You’re always gone when I need your help”. This puts the other person on the defensive because they remember that time last week when they did the dishes or skipped an important meeting to care for the kids. Changing your language to be more accurate results in less of a defensive response. “I wish you would wash your dishes more often” or “It’d be a great help if you could be more present”. Putting your point in this sort of format helps your partner actually listen to what you’re saying instead of feeling they need to defend themselves.

Refrain From Name-Calling

Sure, it feels satisfying in the moment, but later on it can leave you feeling terrible because that’s not how you actually feel. It’s not at all productive, it adds nothing to your point and just leaves both of you feeling awful.

Have a Goal in Mind

Take a moment and think about your last argument with your partner. Whether or not you started it, can you think about what your goal was throughout the fight? If your goal going into an argument is to prove you’re “right”, it’s going to be a very bumpy, ugly road, especially if your partner has the same goal. If there is a possibility that the problem at hand has a solution and can be fixed, then let finding a solution be your goal.. If it is not the kind of issue that can be fixed or solved, let your goal be to gain more understanding and to feel more understood. If you have one of these two as a goal, it is much easier to know when that’s been achieved. If proving you’re right is your goal, you and your partner could go at this for a lot longer without feeling like you’ve achieved anything.

Act Lovingly, Feel Loving

Have you ever heard the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it”? This can be applied to relationships too. After an argument all you want to do is push your partner away while you cool down and they likely feel the same way. You may even find yourself waiting to talk to them because you don’t want to be the first person to “fold”, connecting this with accepting defeat. This behavior only solidifies in your mind those unhelpful, angry thoughts telling you the story that your partner doesn’t understand you or listen to you. Break that cycle by asking your partner if you two could snuggle, do something nice for him/her, extend a kind hand in affection. It’s helpful if during a calm time, you and your partner agree to working on this strategy together. It will feel strange and incongruent at first but it’s amazing how quickly those angry, spiteful feelings dissolve when you’re engaged in kindness.

*Caveat: This is not to say you are not allowed to feel angry or act angry. It just means that instead of letting those emotions stew after you’ve discussed or argued about them, acting loving even though you don’t feel it yet can help both of you heal faster from your argument.

Call For Reinforcements Early

Too often I see couples who use couples therapy as their last ditch effort to make their relationship work. Unfortunately, when they’ve stepped into my office they have all but made the decision already to split. If you’re finding that you and your partner are having trouble figuring out how to fight fair in your relationship, reach out for help. A therapist can be extremely valuable when you and your partner are learning new communication skills and can help you both feel more supported and understood so you can go on to have a rich, long-lasting relationship full of healthy, productive arguing.