Argue Smart

Well, here I go again talking to and about couples, it’s just that I truly believe that the family, as a system, is the foundation of our society and when it comes down to it, happy couples are more likely to have psychologically healthy families. So this one is to healthy families…

If you follow my posts, you know that it is my belief that most of us (individuals and couples) can benefit from seeing a counsellor (at least at some point in our lives). I also know that a lot of people (too many) out there do not see those benefits yet or maybe they just don’t have the time or the resources to afford it. So for those of you that are struggling in your relationship and are in no position to find someone that could help you figure out what is going on, you need to know that there are several self-help resources that could in fact make a difference.

For example, The Gottman Institute tweeted a few weeks ago this link about how to make arguments worse (Find it here). Obviously, they are talking about what NOT to do. I loved the idea of pointing those out; I mean couples have conflicts no matter what, that’s what people do, especially when you share a life together. You will disagree and you will argue…you could, however, argue ‘smart’. This is actually, a topic that I have been thinking about for a while and once I saw their tweet I got inspired to write and to share some ideas and strategies to make arguments a bit more ‘efficient’ or ‘friendly’ if you wish. Note of caution: ALL couples ARE different, this is not a one size fits all kind of thing.

Empathy: In healthy relationships partners feel empathy, fondness and admiration for one another (Gottman cannot repeat this enough, even Brené Brown talks about this in her book). If you think your relationship is lacking any of these, then your first goal should be to regain that using love maps, non -stressful conversations, etc. (If you need more details on this, email me). When you and your partner disagree on something, if you admire who they are, if you empathize with their pain, basically if you are able to put yourself in their shoes, the argument will be about what is bothering you (or them) instead about attacks, criticism or walls.

Learn how to argue: Many believe that happy couples never argue or have disagreements. I cannot emphasize enough how wrong that perspective is. Every couple has differences and conflicts, happy couples just know how to sort through those differences. The goal is not to stop arguing. The goal is to learn to do so in a thoughtful manner; a manner in which we are able to safely talk about what is bothering us, a place where our vulnerabilities are respected, both parties feel heard and more importantly without the presence of the four horsemen (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. For more info on what those are click here.

Be aware of your own issues: This is an extremely important issue to consider. A simple look, a sentence said in a certain kind of tone, a simple oversight on the part of your partner might be enough to start the fight. Sometimes it can be something as simple you wouldn’t even think that this could be the cause for arguing…but it is. Well the reason why this happens is because generally what we argue or fight about is not the real reason why we are upset. I am sure you have heard counsellors say… “the reason for the arguments is not the reason for the argument”. It might sound crazy but it is true. We all have hurts and experiences that mark us. If we are not aware of how those experiences are interfering with the present moment and with our relationships, we are bound to argue over and over about what might seem to be a trivial issue (lots of bickering), have the same argument over and over again, or we tend to blame our partners for whatever feeling we are experiencing without really getting to the bottom of the issue (the real reason why we are upset). Is it that your partner’s actions remind you of something you experienced as a child? Is your partner triggering some unresolved issues for you? Freud said: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier and unexpected ways.” Is this what is happening with you and your partner? Do your arguments start because you feel hurt, uncomfortable, ‘invisible’, etc. but you are not sure why? If so…you might want to think about where it is actually coming from…it might have nothing to do with your partner or with your relationship.

Learn to separate arguments: Many times when couples argue, they start quarrelling about one thing and move through a whole range of issues. For example they start asking why was the towel left on the ground, then they move to how their children are disciplined and then end on last week when someone did not mention that they were coming home late. Do you have the need in almost every argument to bring forth the previous times when your partner did something wrong? My advice is…when you have a problem, talk, discuss and argue about that problem and yes generally things are linked but try as hard as you can to address the issue at hand instead of other things from the past. Call your partner on it: ‘hon, let’s go back to ‘the thing’, we can talk about the other things that are bothering you later. Let’s find a common ground or a solution to ‘the thing’ first so that we don’t get distracted”. It is all about efficiency really… 🙂

Listen to understand and not to respond: Sometimes we get caught up in the ‘being right’ business instead of the ‘my relationship is my priority’ business. Needless to say the first one does not generally have a happy ending. When you argue, are you waiting for your partner to finish talking so that you can bring your opinion forward? Instead of listening carefully to what your partner has to say, or trying to put yourself in her/his shoes, are you thinking about what you are going to say next? Believe me, it is more common than you think. We do it with our kids, with our parents, even at work sometimes. Improving our listening skills takes effort and awareness but it is soooo worth it. A quick google search on ‘listening skills’ will offer you an array of strategies that could change the way you communicate with your partner and possibly your relationship.

‘Talk fair’: Bear with me…I am trying to use a play on the words ‘play fair’. Don’t shame, don’t use name calling, don’t be offensive; basically don’t use vocabulary that could lead your partner to think that you believe she or he is a horrible/unlovable person. It might feel good in the moment but it will cause damage that could become irreparable in your relationship. I know it is hard to control what we say all the time but this is a good moment to use mom’s advice “if you do not have something nice to say…say nothing”. A good trick to avoid this is to address the behaviour rather than the person. For example instead of saying “you are so messy” try describing what you see “I just don’t like this mess”. It is less aggressive and it provides the other the possibility of changing the behaviour.

So…that is pretty much it…

Oh no, wait, one last thing. Be very careful with blaming. When you blame your partner…are you protecting yourself from being seen…from your own mistakes or faults…for your involvement in or with the issue? Try putting the problem in front of you two rather than in between the two of you. Tackle it together; it might be uncomfortable but if you are both on the same page, it will increase intimacy and trust.

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