We all know it's a bad idea to get into an unnecessary fight. But it's healthy for couples to argue. It's up to us to decide how we want to handle them — namely, how we want to behave while such a dispute is unfolding. Quarrels can quickly escalate from unfolding to unraveling, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can fight with your partner while still loving them. And the same goes for your partner. Squabbles and love are not mutually exclusive.
There are absolutely many different ways to feud, and I'd go as far to say that some are totally fine — and some are deadly, and total relationship-killers (and/or soul-killers, which is even worse). Experts have a million ideas about how to disagree, but one thing they can all agree upon is that calm and open communication is key — no histrionics or tantrums. Keep it clean, as the kids say. Whether it's using "I" statements or just plain asking yourself how important something is, there's no question that above all, keeping it classy is the way to go.
One thing is for sure: Every couple fights. When shit goes down, avoid these ten things to keep it copacetic.
1. Don't Fight Dirty
In the book 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage, gerontologist Karl Pillemer interviewed "experts," aka married couples, on the subject of love. He includes such tidbits as this: “Especially in the heat of an argument, you say things and they’re never going to get taken back," says 51-years-married Leah Stone. Take a page from her playbook and be mindful that anything horrible you say in a fight can and will sting long after the dust settles.
2. Relatedly: Don't Call Names
Even though these burns are pure gold, I would strongly suggest saving them for a more appropriate venue. It is never appropriate to insult your partner, and this is only more true in the heat of the moment. If you're the kind of person who feels tempted to do such a thing, hold thy tongue.
3. Don't Air Every Grievance Ever
This is not the time to bring sweeping financial problems up. Nor is it the time to mention how much you hate that your partner never does the dishes. "Don't introduce other topics until each is fully discussed," say therapists at the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center. "This avoids the 'kitchen sink' effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved."
4. Don't Meander — Keep It Topical
Center the spat on whatever triggered it and "deal with only one issue at a time," say UT Counseling and Mental Health Center therapists. If you're on vacation and find yourself locking horns about where you're going to eat or what museum you'll visit next, don't drag your partner's awful sister into the mix. The best arguments are those in which you get in and get out with as much ease and speed as possible, so keep your mouth shut about whatever else you might be tempted to say in the moment. If it's important, another topic can have its own argument (or, better, calm discussion) sometime in the future.
5. Don't Neglect To Express Your Feelings
Newsflash: People really respond well to open communication of one's feelings. A little honesty and vulnerability go a long way, even though they can feel uncomfortable sometimes. Someone very wise once told me, "Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don't say it mean." Amen to that.
6. Don't Take Anything Personally
Seriously. Nothing. It's just not about you. Last night, my best friend and I had a long talk about life, as we do, and she told me she's come up with a new life mantra: "Life events don't mean anything about you." As in — when your boss doesn't like your idea or your sister decides to move to Nevada, their actions and choices are not a reflection on you. We all do things the way we do them. Not to hurt one another. End of story.
7. Don't Forget R-E-S-P-E-C-T
If you choose your words carefully and come from a place of mutual love and understanding — and respect — things will go a lot more smoothly. Marriage (and LTRs) is paradoxical, as Pillemer writes in his book: It’s “the closest adult relationship most people have,” yet “we can hurt the one we love and do so more effectively than in any other relationship.”
8. Fights Aren't Scary, So Don't Freak Out.
Misunderstandings happen. It's just not that deep. Explain yourself, admit your part, apologize for any harms done, readily admit culpability and move on. Arguments can be — gasp — healthy. This is something I've discovered as I've gotten older (it's been a journey, let's just say), and it's super valuable to really know on a guttural level.
9. If At All Humanly Possible, Don't Bring Your Baggage Into This.
Don't get triggered. Stay calm. Take deep breaths, a break, a walk. We all have trauma, but past events are not necessarily going to repeat themselves. In the midst of a fight, remember you are safe. (Of course, I'm talking about rows in good relationships. If you're in an abusive relationship, you are not safe, and you need to leave.) And through all of this, be real. I would never suggest that you hide your truth. If past issues are coming up, say so. Your partner is not a mind reader, and he or she will be thankful for the context.
10. In General, Don't Be An Asshole.
Don't be manipulative. Don't be smug. Basically, don't be a little bitch. Swallow any desire you might have to go Class Five Diva on your partner's ass and instead, be nice. You're just in a fight — with a person you love.