11 Tips For Arguing Constructively In A Relationship
I think we can all agree that arguing sucks. But unfortunately going head-to-head is sometimes inevitable in life, and it's why being able to argue constructively is a super helpful life skill to work on. In a piece for Psychology Today, psychologist Barton Goldsmith noted that everyone argues, and that, "Some of [us] do it overtly by yelling at each other while others do it covertly by avoiding contact and conversation. Whatever the method, the result is the same - hurt feelings and disenchantment."
I'm personally a "cold shoulder" arguer by nature. Instead of addressing something that bothers me head on, I'll tend to distance myself from another person until they're forced to initiate a conversation or argument. It's at this point that I'll unleash a whirlwind of hurt feelings or anger that I've been bottling up — which have been made all the worse by the fact that I've been stewing in my feelings for a couple days.
Needless to say, this isn't a healthy way to get to the bottom of a problem or disagreement; nor is flying off the handle and yelling within seconds. Both can lead to hurt feelings and a fight that last hours or days versus a disagreement that gets quickly resolved. If you've been feeling like you argue in circles, or that nothing ever seems to get resolved, you might be in need of a few tips for having a healthy argument (as much of an oxymoron as that may seem). Here are 11 argument hacks that just may help you out.
1. Don't Stockpile
In that same Psychology Today piece, Goldsmith stressed the importance of not stockpiling issues you have with another person and unleashing them all at once. "Deal with [the current] issue first and if you really have unresolved feelings from past problems talk about them at another time.
2. Never Yell
Goldsmith also noted the extreme importance of not raising your voice in an argument. "It's amazing how issues of hurt feelings or differences can be resolved with a whisper," Goldsmith wrote. "I counsel couples who are yellers to only communicate with a whisper and it greatly reduces the anger factor in their relationships."
In a piece for the site FindAPsychologist.org, Dr. Larry F. Waldman noted the importance of the paraphrasing method in healthy arguments. "The paraphrase technique involves having one partner state their position for no more than 60 seconds while the other partner quietly listens," Waldman said. "At the end of the minute, before the second partner can offer their rebuttal, they must first paraphrase their partner’s position. This forces the partner to really 'hear'."
4. Take A Time Out
On his website, licensed marriage and family therapist Jeremy Mast said it's always OK to take a time out, especially when you can feel the physical signs of anger overtaking you. "You can often interrupt your verbal brawl by simply taking a deep breath or calling a brief time-out. The key here is recognizing what you would normally do during a conflict (e.g., blaming your partner, yelling, withdrawing) and doing something else—anything that isn’t harmful to you or your relationship," Mast wrote.
5. Ask Yourself Why You're Angry
Mast also recommended taking a moment to really think about why you're angry. Do you feel under-appreciated? Like the other person never makes sacrifices? Try to figure out what the argument is really about before starting the interaction.
6. Timing Is Everything
In a piece for Best Health Magazine, family therapist Kevin VanDerZwet Stafford noted the importance of when you broach a subject that's bothering you. "If you’re going to bring up a contentious issue [...], make sure you have time to listen to the response." Stafford said. "Don’t dish it out if you’re not willing to stick around and work it out."
7. Keep It On Topic
Stafford also stressed staying on topic when arguing. "Be clear on what you’re arguing about. For some people, that means writing the issue down on a piece of paper," Stafford said. That way everyone is accountable to the issue at hand, as opposed to bringing up a slew of unrelated issues or instances.
8. Stay Humble
This one's a personal tip that has just come through years of arguing. If you're going to get in it with another person, prepare yourself for the fact that you might not necessarily be in the right, or that the other person might bring up some extremely valid points. This can be all the difference between a constructive back and forth and an unhelpful fight.
9. Don't Fight When You're Tired Or Hungry
In a piece for The Huffington Post, author and human behavioral specialist Dr. Gale Gross provided the super practical tip of never arguing when you're tired or hungry. She even recommended scheduling a weekly time for you and your partner to work things out so that you both are prepared and calm when it comes time for an important discussion.
10. Use "I Feel Statements"
Gross also recommended the strategy of using "I feel" statements over "you" statements as a super simple, yet incredibly effective way to communicate constructively. That way you won't put the other person on the defensive, and you won't be playing the blame game.
11. Try To Be Empathetic
This is a tip I actually got from a friend who has just been through relationship counseling. She noted that even though the relationship didn't end up working out, one of the most valuable lessons she learned was the importance of empathy while arguing. Maybe a friend or partner seems like they're over-reacting, but maybe it's because they're insecure. Maybe they seem overly-sensitive, but maybe they've been hurt in the past. When you think of others in these terms it can often be difficult to hold onto anger.
Arguing in a constructive and healthy way can be one of the hardest things we ask of ourselves, because it entails extreme self-control and self-awareness. However, being able to turn anger or annoyance into a conversation — as opposed to a fight — can make some of the most important relationships in our lives better and make us happier overall.