When you are involved in a relationship, arguments are inevitable. After all, you and your partner may not always see eye-to-eye on certain matters. Issues concerning money, parenting styles, sex, in-laws, and even chores are bound to pop up sooner or later.
Though it’s true that all couples fight, there are some couples who know how to fight better than others. Not all arguments between partners must consist of raised voices and purposely hurtful words — it’s possible to fight constructively.
Fighting constructively should be taken seriously. Not being able to communicate well and not being able to resolve conflicts are often reasons couples give for why they want to divorce.
So, if you’re tired of the endless fights that seem to be headed nowhere, here are some things you need to know about communicating more effectively with your partner:
Focus On The Main Issue
During an argument, it is important that you only deal with one issue at a time. It’s common for couples to bring up completely unrelated issues or even bring up a specific incident that happened months ago. These can cause the fight to get even bigger and make the chance of a resolution next to impossible.
Don’t Play The Blame Game
Avoid putting the blame on your partner and refrain from using phrases such as “you never” or “you always”. Attacking your partner’s character will immediately make them go on the defensive and will likely lead to another argument. Instead of focusing on what your spouse did or did not do, talk about you and how the particular issue makes you feel.
Focus your attention on just your spouse and the issue at hand. Sit down as a couple and look each other in the eye. Be respectful and honest, and avoid using negative body language.
Refrain from eye rolling, calling each other names, and using sarcasm. Such behaviors are not only disrespectful and mean-spirited, but they also have a damaging effect on the relationship. Similarly, stay away from low blows and making unnecessary comments that simply aim to intentionally hurt your partner.
Dial It Down
Remember that your actions can affect how your partner reacts to the situation. Raising your voice at your spouse may cause him or her to become quiet and withdrawn, or may trigger your partner to participate in a full-fledged shouting match. Try your best to use soft and reassuring tones during a difficult conversation and take things slow when the discussion becomes too emotional.
Not interested in what your spouse has to say? A healthy debate or discussion shouldn’t be one-sided. Learn to listen — really listen. Don’t build your case while your spouse is still speaking. Show your partner that you care and that you sincerely want to understand his or her side so that you can arrive at a resolution.
One technique often suggested by relationship experts is paraphrasing. This involves listening to what your partner has to say, then briefly paraphrasing their words before being able to express your own sentiments. Paraphrasing allows you to acknowledge your partner’s feelings and points of view, and provides you the opportunity to truly understand their side of the argument.
Take A Time Out
Newlyweds are often advised never to never go to bed angry with each other. While this is good general advice, it doesn’t always apply. Often, an argument can get so emotionally charged that it seems impossible to fix things unless both you and your partner have taken a considerable amount of time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
Take a time out when things get out of hand. Take deep breaths, count to ten, walk out of the room for a few minutes or even agree go to bed and revisit the issue in the morning. Sometimes, the best thing you can do in a fight is to momentarily remove yourself from the situation.
Asking the right questions can do wonders. When done reverentially — and not with disbelief, asking questions not only lets your partner know that you are genuinely interested in what he or she has to say, but it also prevents you from jumping to your own conclusions.
Set Ground Rules
While it may be impossible to act reasonably in the middle of a heated discussion, setting ground rules for future arguments is certainly one tactic you should try with your spouse after an emotionally draining argument. You can create specific rules such as agreeing not to interrupt each other, or you can simply discuss an end goal — which is meeting in the middle and resolving the problem together.
Following these steps is certainly not going to be easy, especially at first. But communication is fundamental to the long-term success of any relationship for avoiding divorce and other marriage trouble. Making even the tiniest effort to fight constructively with your partner will go a long way in ultimately building your relationship and moving forward as a healthy couple.
Written by: Scott Goldman
Scott Goldman is founder of Goldman Law, LLC, a family law firm based in Denver that handles divorce, mediation, child custody and related matters. He’s a happily married father of two kids who moved to Colorado from Michigan for better weather and great skiing.