Arguments are the bane of virtually every type of relationship. With the right tactics and coping skills, however, you can keep arguments from accelerating into verbally or physically violent confrontations. Handled right, it could even be a constructive discourse. Having been through over 10 years of marriage to two different men – the first like oil to my water personality, and the other quite comfortable with aggression – I’ve learned a lot about arguing.
Being constructive about arguing does require that both people act like reasonable adults, but you can help guide it in that direction by paying close attention to your own body language and word usage. Remember that you’re the only person you can control here. No matter how much older or more responsible the other person might be, you can’t assume they’ll conduct themselves well during the argument. We’ll work off of the assumption that this is someone you love and you really don’t want to fight. These five tips may help you avoid heating up emotions, leave you with little or nothing to regret afterward, and help bring the argument to a constructive close.
Quell acceleration in the argument
It’s a proven fact that if one person keeps a level tone of voice and a clear head during an argument, the other will eventually lose steam and the argument won’t accelerate. Therapists and marriage counselors mention this all the time, and you know what? They’re absolutely right. When someone raises their voice to you, your automatic response is probably to raise your voice too. Maybe you want to be heard, or maybe you just don’t want to be seen as the weak person in the argument. Either way, this invites the other person to raise his or her voice again. Instead, respond to a rising voice or rapid-fire speech pattern with lower, slower speech. If the other person doesn’t give you room to speak, wait patiently until they’ve finished their spiel. Ask politely if they’re done, then express your own thoughts in the same level voice.
Avoid playing the “blame game”
While it’s healthy to communicate your expectations or desires to a significant other, it’s toxic and hurtful to constantly blame them. If all of your arguments proceed with, “Well, if you wouldn’t…” Or, “It’s your fault that…” Or, “If you would just do more, I could be happy.” All this does is make your partner feel attacked. Once he or she is on the defensive, then rationality and any chance at constructive debate have just gone out the window. Instead, take responsibility for your own feelings and try to phrase your thoughts in those terms – i.e., “I feel overwhelmed and wish I had more help.”
Gloating is bad form
It feels wonderful when you make a good point, especially when you’re in an argumentative mindset. That said, “rubbing in” your victories will only make it more certain that your partner won’t listen to you the next time, even if you make sense. Nobody likes to be made fun off. Take your victories graciously and stay focused on the constructive and you hope to achieve with this argument.
Accept that it’s okay to be wrong
Nobody likes to be wrong, but is it really that bad? Stupid arguments can continue for days or weeks – sometimes even years – simply because no one is willing to be wrong. You may still be totally convinced that you’re right, but weigh the pros and cons here. What do you gain by being right? Can you just agree to disagree? Pick your battles. You can’t successfully debate a point of opinion, so it’s often best if you can agree to disagree and move on to the next point.
Learn how to back down gracefully
The matter what the argument is about, gracefully ending it is always tricky. Exactly how you do it will depend on individual personalities, but it all hinges on successfully decelerating the argument. Often, the easiest way to do this is to admit that you might be wrong – notice, you don’t have to say that you are wrong, just concede that you are human and may have made an error. Alternatively, acknowledge in as many words that the other person’s point or grievance is totally valid. Everyone’s feelings are valid, but arguments often only spring up if the person who starts the argument doesn’t feel that the other recognizes the validity.
However you do it, this is the time to cool down enough for a constructive discussion. If you need to leave the room to cool down for a few minutes, then do. It’s just a time out – do it with the understanding that you will reconvene shortly to finish the discussion. Talk about things you can both do to remedy the situation, and form a clear plan of what the solution looks like. Leaving the argument without a clear solution will just ensure that it will happen again.
For every disagreement, set internal boundaries regarding the issue. You can’t control whether the other person holds up their end of the bargain or not, and pushing them if they don’t adhere to your plans isn’t an option in a healthy relationship. Instead, decide what you will do if the solution isn’t carried out as planned. Are you willing to do your partner’s half? Do you need to distance yourself from the issue? Will you hire someone to fix the problem? Is it serious enough to end the partnership if they don’t do what they agreed to? Whatever it is, decide how you will move away from the stress and negativity of the situation independent of what the other person chooses to do. Ultimately, how you live and feel is your responsibility.