Arguing is an inevitable part of any relationship, in any capacity, no matter how well you get along with the other person. While arguing can stir up mean and hurtful things, it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, starting an argument is the only way two people know to air their concerns or discuss their differences. Does this sound like your arguments? If not, then you may fall into the trap of unhealthy argument tactics and get caught up in the potentially toxic emotions around an argument.
Early in a relationship, it’s likely that arguments will get mired in that swirl of knee-jerk, emotional reactions on both sides due to frustrated attempts at effective communication. As time goes on, however, it’s important that the structure of arguments evolves in order to foster a healthy long-term relationship. So which arguments are good, and which are bad? Here are a few of the hallmarks of each type.
How to recognize an unhealthy or toxic argument
Remember that argument that devolved into a “scream fest,” or the one that ended in name-calling or taunts from the winner? Yeah, that was a toxic argument. This is the argument that involves competition, violence (even if it’s just verbal), and an insistence on a “right” opinion. Arguments shouldn’t be about division and declaring a winner. An unhealthy argument involves mean jabs and name-calling that don’t add anything to the conversation. One or both people may offer unfounded accusations, or express untrue opinions that are only said with the goal of being hurtful. Blame is possibly the most prevalent toxic element of an argument, such as, “You make me feel…” or “You made me do…”
One or both people may leave the argument still angry, and possibly shouting at each other as they go. There’s no solution, virtually guaranteeing that the same topic will come up again later, and probably with just as much or more frustration and anger.
Healthy arguments and how to help create them
Obviously, if things get physically or verbally violent during an argument, it’s okay to walk away. The most important thing is that you remain safe, and someone who is being violent in any way will never accomplish anything constructive. Most arguments do start out extremely emotional – if they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be arguments. Once that first emotional tidal wave is spent, however, it’s important to work toward deceleration to get to a point where constructive communication is possible.
A healthy argument involves a clear stance from both people – you can’t be part of a solution if you don’t know what needs to be fixed. Any words passed between you focus on the issue at hand, and do not involve attacking each other in any way. As emotions cool, the healthy argument turns to a discussion on desired solutions and a workable compromise. On the way, each person must be able to take time outs or other coping mechanisms needed to bring the argument to a constructive close.
Any responsible person can help guide an argument down a constructive path. That doesn’t always mean the other person will follow, but all you can do is try. Remain calm, try to refrain from interrupting, and certainly avoid personal attacks. Take responsibility for your own emotions, focusing on what you’d like to see happen instead of how the other person “made” you feel. Most importantly, know your personal boundaries so that you don’t get hurt by someone who just wants to be mean. If the argument isn’t being constructive, you do have the power to end it until one or both of you have calmed down.
It’s a sad truth, but an argument is often the only time two people are willing to be completely open and honest about something that’s bothering them. A fight doesn’t mean you’re failing in your relationship. Even a bad fight doesn’t mean the relationship is bad, it just means that you both need to work harder on establishing means of effective communication. It’s okay to argue – and even healthy – if there’s greater understanding and a win-win plan in place at the end.