How often do you and your partner disagree? Answers will range from never to all the time. Although neither extreme is good*, the way you disagree can be indicative of more problems than how often. When you are dealing with other people, disagreements are inevitable (some people can’t even help disagreeing with themselves!) We disagree because we are each our own person with our own thoughts, opinions, and experiences and it is a sign that we feel confident enough in who we are and our relationship with the other person that we can discuss those alternative views without fear of ridicule or abandonment. The problem becomes when you cannot disagree without arguing and without coming to some sort of conclusion.
To make it a bit easier to understand, when I say argue, I mean verbally fighting. If there is physical violence in your relationship, that is a serious problem and outside help is needed. In this case, however, I am not talking about physical violence. When we fight with our partners it is often because we are hurt and the hurt manifests itself as anger and defensiveness. You may find yourself or your partner yelling, name calling, belittling, lashing out, and criticizing among many others. Some people retreat when this begins and others up the ante by yelling back their own complaints and criticisms. This type of arguing is not productive and actually harms the relationship further. Often times the things that are said during arguments are not even meant but they tend to stick with your partner and taint future interactions and disagreements. Often times couples come into counseling for this reason, because they are unable to argue productively, leaving them to continue arguing about the same topics over and over and hurting one another each time.
If this sounds like your relationship, there is hope! The following are some quick tips. I will continue to discuss this topic and go further into detail in future posts.
- Take breaks from arguments as needed when you begin to feel angry. It is better to put the conversation off for a little bit and revisit it when you are calm enough to talk rationally. Just make sure to resume the conversation later!
- Instead of trying to point out your partner’s faults, work together to find a solution.
- Whenever possible, use “I” statements by telling your partner how you feel (“I feel embarrassed when you correct me in public” instead of “You always have to interrupt me when I’m telling a story”)
- Think about what you are saying and the long term consequences of it.
- Don’t bring up past hurts or complaints. Only discuss the topic at hand.
*(Never disagreeing is an indication that one or both of the partners in the relationship is not speaking up about the differences and is just trying to please the other, which can lead to conflict due to problems not being solved and eventually the pleasing partner will be fed up with the role they have chosen.)