arguing in relationship - a path to maturity

Many of us may be under the impression that the relationship with our partner (in this blog I am referring to an intimate relationship) is going well when we are not arguing and everything seems to be going swimmingly well.  However, arguing is not unhealthy, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways of arguing.  In fact, it may be well argued that never having arguments, disagreements or heated discussions, may mean that one or both partners are keeping things bottled up and festering – and we all know what happens with a ticking time bomb!  So let’s remind ourselves of a few key points on how to argue decently and respectfully with the one that we love.

Ideally, it is always best if we can communicate our hurt, anger, disagreement, etc., prior to the situation escalating into a full blown fight.  If we are able to catch the situation at this point we can begin by asking our partner when it would be a good time to talk, so that we may set up an optimal time and space with few distractions.

However, if we are already very heated and feeling the urge to simply lash out, then most likely, we will not be able to communicate effectively or even keep our partner in the room with us:  Time for a timeout.  When we get very upset our stress hormones are released and our ability to think logically and rashly go down the drain.  We are then more likely to shoot our mouth off and then the argument becomes about the hurtful things that have been said instead of keeping the focus on the initial point that needed our attention.  Timeout will be different for everyone and every situation.  Maybe a few deep breaths is enough, ten minutes in a separate room or even waiting until the next day – just remember to come back to it, otherwise, most likely it will return again and again.  Avoiding conflict does not aid in resolution but simply prolongs and possibly worsens the situation that needs our attention.

We’ve all heard this before, but it works; use “I” statements to express to our partner what is going on for us.  “I feel hurt and uncared for when...”, “I have a problem with...”.  When we use “You” statements, it can often feel like an attack to our partner, putting them on the defensive or in total shut down mode.  In other words, the “fight or flight” response is triggered. 

Speak, but remember to LISTEN.  This can be very difficult when we are all fired up.  We may want to take a moment to remember that this person, just like me, has a different perspective but it does not make it less valid.  Validating our partner’s feelings, perspective and opinions is often all that is needed to de-escalate an argument – having a differing view is not always an issue or at least it can often be the piece that is workable or a place of compromise.  We may even use a timer and allow each person to speak (ideally, using “I” statements) uninterrupted before the other person responds.  I have also found it helpful to sit side by side, as opposed to across from each other as a physical reminder that, “we are on the same side here – we both want a resolution that works for us both”. 

Arguing can be a sign that we trust our partner, that we can be genuine and take a risk to be vulnerable and to expose a part of our self that we may find uncomfortable.  Many of us feel a great deal of fear or discomfort around conflict and prefer to avoid it all together if possible.  Learning to argue well, is a wonderful opportunity for our relationship to mature and grow up together – a skill and maturity that can be taken beyond the relationship and into the world.

I read a wonderful book (that can be read either on your own, or together as a couple) titled, “How to be an Adult in Relationships – The Five Keys to Mindful Living”, by David Richo - .  Maybe you’ll like it too.  Also, if you have other suggestions for talks or books related to this subject matter, please post it in the comment box to share with others.