As the award winning songstress, Taylor Swift once sang, “It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair”. Conflict itself is hard enough to manage, let alone when the cards are stacked against us. Without a clear set of rules, arguments can lead absolutely nowhere, or worse, they can send us into a downward spiral. The key is figuring out how to engage in an argument so that the results are productive in your relationship or marriage.
Here are 4 tips to remember the next time you and your spouse are knee deep in a squabble:
1. Specify the offense.
Many of us start fights on the wrong foot, by throwing out insults and accusations. For instance, let’s say your partner forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, again. You respond by yelling, “The dry cleaning from last week has still not been picked up! You don’t care about me at all! You’re so selfish!” These callous claims usually do not get met with happy responses.
However, if you were instead, to pinpoint a specific behaviour (picking up the dry cleaning) and the way you felt, the response may be very different. Here is an example of what could have been said instead, “When you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, I felt my needs were being ignored.” Now instead of insults and name calling, the partner is presented with the way in which their actions lead to the distress of their partner.
It is always easier to work with a concrete concept such as “pick up the dry cleaning” than it is to change an abstract notion like “so selfish” or “don’t care”. Additionally, incorporating an “I” statement makes it a personal statement about how you specifically felt, which is hard for a partner to argue with.
2. Ease up on the defense.
It is human nature to want to defend ourselves when we feel verbally attacked. However, research has proven that this tactic almost never has the desired effect, and worse – that it often escalates the conflict! No matter how true or well thought out the defense, the offended spouse will rarely, if ever, back down or apologize. This is because defense is almost always interpreted as a way of blaming the other person; which leads to more conflict, not less. Instead, try accepting your part in the problem, no matter how small your part may be.
3. Ask for clarification.
In the heat of an argument it is easy to assume what the other person is thinking and to assign malicious intent, often mistakenly, to something they are saying. These assumptions can be the nail in the coffin of any attempt to keep the peace. Instead of jumping to conclusions, practice listening to your partner and paraphrasing what he or she actually said instead of what you think they meant. Again, if you aren’t sure, always ask for clarification.
4. Prepare for the stonewall.
Have you ever found yourself in an argument and gotten the impression that your partner has mentally stepped out? Stonewalling is the phenomenon that occurs when one partner tunes the other out during an argument. Symptoms of stonewalling include: looking away, looking down in the middle of the conversation, not giving any verbal feedback, getting busy doing something else and/or possibly even physically leaving the room.
If you are typically the stonewalling spouse, the next time you find yourself in a situation like this, try taking a few deep breaths and making a conscious effort to remain engaged. Small gestures, even minimum feedback such as saying “uh huh”, making eye contact and nodding will let your partner know you are still there. If stonewalling occurs often in your partnership, many couples find it helpful to set up a standard protocol to follow for stonewalling. For instance, some couples set up a rule that when stonewalling occurs, both couples will retreat for a set amount of time and then will regroup. This allows the stonewaller to recover and their partner to not get unduly upset because they know they will get their chance to speak.
Overall, utilizing these four tips in your next argument will go a long way to supporting a mutually, happy coupledom. But, sometimes it is a lot easier said than done when practicing these tips. If you want more hands on guidance then call Life Counseling Solutions at 407-622-1770 to schedule an appointment with our expert relationship coaches. Or, book your first appointment by clicking here.
Author: Morgan Rahimi and Alexis Honeycutt