13 Ways To Argue Fairly In A Relationship, According To Lawyers
Arguing is never fun, yet is usually a given when it comes to relationships. However, if you think back to arguments you’ve had in the past, some arguments probably went better than others. For instance, did you and the other person speak to each other calmly? Or was it a shouting match, where you could not even hear yourselves think? At the end of the day — or argument — you want the outcome to be productive. Well, if you’re looking for healthier ways to do so, there *are* ways to argue fairly in a relationship.
“No relationship is without fighting and arguing,” Harper Robinson, a lawyer at Zurica Law in Bedford Hills, NY, tells Bustle. “People tend to believe that fighting with your partner signals a bad relationship. However, keeping your anger in doesn’t get you anywhere, especially in a relationship. Arguing is normal, even healthy, as long as you’re fighting fair.”
As Robinson says, arguing can be healthy, but it’s all about how it’s done. Below, lawyers weigh in on how to argue fairly in a relationship. So the next time you happen to be arguing — or even before you begin — you can keep the following tips in mind.
1. Have An Arguing Game Plan In Place Before You Argue
When not arguing with your partner, discuss how you two will handle future arguments, Natalie Pierre-Louis, an attorney with a focus on business formation, NPL Consulting, LLC, tells Bustle. “Set ground rules for how you’re going to deal with disagreements BEFORE they happen,” she says. “Having a game plan, in business or in a relationship, is a big factor in being able to communicate effectively.”
2. Determine Which Issues Warrant An Argument
Matthew H. Ehrlich, divorce attorney and partner at Field Lomenzo, P.C., and the Law Office of Matthew H. Ehrlich, LLP, believes that not all topics are argument-worthy. “Try and determine which issues are ‘major enough’ to warrant an argument,” he tells Bustle. “A key to arguing fairly is not to argue and make a federal case of each and every minor issue that arises (i.e., leaving the cap off of the toothpaste should never rise to the level of an argument).”
3. Address An Issue When It Arises
Sometimes, people bottle up something that’s bothering them, and by the time they tell their partner, it’s magnified into a much bigger issue. Vikki Ziegler, divorce attorney, Ziegler & Zemsky, relationship expert, author of The Pre-Marital Planner, and star of BRAVO’s Untying the Knot, recommends not waiting. “It’s important to tell your partner how you feel when an issue arises versus letting things build up into a massive argument down the road,” she tells Bustle.
4. Stick To The Issue At Hand
When arguing with somebody, it may be easy to get off-topic and start focusing on the person or extraneous details versus the subject you’re arguing about. However, it’s important to stay on track. “Confront the issue at hand, not the other person,” Robinson says. “Don’t insult the other person in order to try to gain ground in the argument. Also, don’t pursue unrelated details just to prove your point.”
Pierre-Louis thinks so, too. “If it can be avoided, don’t bring up something that happened weeks or months ago, or isn’t pertinent to the conversation,” she says. “Your partner may get defensive if you start listing off all the things they’ve done wrong, and you won’t be able to get to the root of the current matter.”
5. Don’t Make Light Of The Issue
Even if the subject at hand is not something you feel is worth arguing about, it’s likely important to the other person — it’s best to respect their opinion and how they’re feeling about the topic. “Don’t make light of the issue,” Robinson says. “Instead, acknowledge and validate it. You can try saying, ‘I know how significant this is for you, but I’m just uncertain about what to do about it,’ and take it from there.”
6. Listen Attentively To What Your Partner Has To Say
If you’re passionate about a topic, you may be anxious to get your point across. However, in order to argue fairly, arguing involves listening, too. “Fight fairly and respect your partner’s feelings,” Ziegler says. “Try to listen to your partner when they respond instead of interrupting them.”
Michael Dye of The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, P.A., also feels listening is key. “The problem that I see with too many attorneys, both in court and in their personal lives, is that they decide their position and only say things in support of their position — they completely tune out the other party and don’t listen,” he tells Bustle. “I hate watching a cross-examination where a lawyer simply has a script and he is going to stick to it no matter what the witness says. If you don’t listen to the witness, you have a horrible day in court; if you don’t listen to your partner, you are going to have a horrible relationship.”
He believes that a good lawyer listens twice as much as they speak. “That is good advice for everybody, not just lawyers,” he says. “Listening turns an argument into a discussion.”
7. Make Your Case And Don’t Poke Holes In Theirs
“First, focus on ‘making your case’ rather than poking holes in theirs,” Anthony Procaccio of Bass & Moglowsky, S.C., tells Bustle. “When one person is trying to express their point of view, it’s always best to let the other get it out rather than pointing out all the flaws, errors, or hypocrisies contained therein.” He says that’s a surefire way to put them on the defensive and turn a dispute into a full-blown argument, as well as lead to pulling in irrelevant issues.
“It’s also important for the point to focus on how something makes the speaker feel,” Procaccio says. “For example, ‘When you do [X], I interpret that as [Y], and that makes me feel [Z],’ instead of simply saying ‘You doing [X] is wrong.’ From there, you can get to the root of ‘why’ and ‘how’ the offensive action makes you feel a certain way, rather than litigating why the partner is wrong for doing the action in the first place.” He says this will help ensure that you and your partner stay on-topic.
8. Don’t Cross-Examine Your Partner
After you hear what your partner has to say, you may want to cross-examine them, but Procaccio advises against it. “One time, my wife started asking a series of leading questions,” he says. “I picked up on it and simply said, ‘Don’t cross examine me. You’re a better lawyer than me and that’s not fair.’”
9. Try To Keep Emotions Out Of It
An argument may take on a different angle if emotions are involved. Aaron S. Klein, Associate in the Litigation Practice Group of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, suggests leaving them out of it. “In a relationship, most, if not all, arguments are based upon emotions rather than rational thoughts,” he tells Bustle. “Through practicing litigation law as well as being in a relationship of my own, I’ve learned how to strategically and honestly work issues out with others. Law school teaches you to think and argue in rational ways, isolating any outside factors, such as emotions, which is easier said than done, of course.”
As a result, Klein says that in his personal relationship, he finds himself trying to take a step back and work to create a rational decision or compromise that doesn’t necessarily offend the other person’s emotions.
10. Don’t Make Hurtful Comments Or Call The Other Person Names
If you’re upset, even if you’re tempted to make hurtful comments, like calling your partner names, don’t do it. “Disrespecting your partner by name-calling will only further fuel the other person to become resentful and not want to accept responsibility and resolve your differences,” Ziegler says.
Ehrlich agrees. “Try not to make comments or allegations (which you know) have no bearing in the argument and are being made just to hurt your significant other,” he says. “If you have been in a relationship for a period of time, you both know each other’s soft spots and triggers, and there is simply no need to go there. Most of the time, they have nothing to do with the actual argument and, instead, are merely being offered by one party to elicit the desired response of anger in the other.”
11. Don’t Make Faces
If you don’t have a poker face, it’s best to try to have one when arguing. “Nothing is more dismissive than making faces, or rolling your eyes, and embarrassing your partner when arguing,” Ziegler says. “Remember, you are with this person for a reason, and when you are fighting, try to come from a loving place — as hard as it may be — and try to be open-minded. Fueling animosity will never help you stay in a happy and healthy partnership.”
12. Compromise Or Offer A Concession
When it comes to figuring out how to resolve the issue you’re arguing about, compromising is a good idea, as it offering a concession, Robinson says. “A concession or even a small compromise can help lay the foundation for a larger one,” she says.
Ziegler thinks so, too. “Compromise — meet your partner halfway, don’t make it all or nothing,” she says. “It’s not about right or wrong; it’s truly about hearing and listening to your partner’s feelings and coming to a fair compromise so that the issue does not spiral back again.”
13. Try To Have A “Passionate Discussion” Instead
Instead of arguing, try having a “passionate discussion,” Chad Ruback, who has been an appellate lawyer for more than 20 years, tells Bustle. He says that every time he goes to an appellate court to represent his clients, it is called an “argument.” “When there is an argument in court, there is always a winner and a loser,” he says. “When there is an argument in a relationship, there are always two losers.” Instead, he suggests having a “passionate discussion.”
“In a passionate discussion, neither party is trying to win,” he says. “Instead, each person is passionately trying to learn more about the other person’s feelings, and to use what is learned to devise a solution which both people can obtain most — although often not all — of what they are seeking.”
As the lawyers above say, there are ways to argue fairly in a relationship. The sooner you start to practice the above, the more you can master whole new ways of arguing, and ways that will produce productive outcomes, which is the whole point.