9 Tips For Having A More Productive Argument With Your Partner, According To Couples Therapists
No two relationships are exactly the same, but there's one universal truth that applies to all couples: it's inevitable that, every now and then, you and your partner will have disagreements — both big and small ones. Of course, it's never fun to have a fight with your partner, but it's a lot less fun if you're unable to communicate and compromise effectively — which is why it's so important to learn how to make your arguments more productive. But what exactly does it mean to have a "productive" argument with your partner?
"A productive argument is one where each of you sticks to the topic, don’t lose your tempers or raise your voices, can actually listen to each other’s perspective, don’t engage in name calling, don’t 'agree' when you don’t mean it, and don’t storm off or shut down," Lesli Doares, Couples Consultant and Coach, tells Bustle. "An unproductive argument is when any of those things don’t occur. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether the issue under discussion is resolved, but how you each conduct yourself."
Learning how to argue more productively in your relationship is certainly not an easy task, and it doesn't happen overnight. But if you want your relationship to last, it's worth your while to actively work on improving your communication and conflict resolution skills — because it's a lot harder to make a relationship work when the going gets tough if you and your partner have bad communication habits.
"Unproductive arguments lead to 'agreements' that aren’t followed through on, leading to more unpleasantness," Doares says. "They also lead to feelings of resentment, disrespect, and invalidation. None of these feelings are conducive to love and connection. One of the biggest problems with unproductive arguments is that things are said that can never be unheard. You also each can engage in defensive behaviors that make the situation worse. It becomes I’m right/you’re wrong instead of how can we resolve this."
If you want to say goodbye to frustrating, unproductive fights, here are nine hacks to make your arguments more productive that are couples-therapist approved.
1. If You Can't Stay Calm, Take A Break
The golden rule for having more productive arguments? Don't let things get heated — because that's when yelling, name-calling, and insulting each other can happen.
Instead of letting things escalate to that point, Doares suggests taking a break to cool down if you need it: "If you can’t remain calm and on topic, take a break and come back to the conversation when you are in a better place," she says.
2. Avoid Using The Word "You"
When you're having an argument with your partner, it can be hard not to feel attacked and take things personally. But if you want a quick trick that will help you both avoid feeling defensive, Doares says to avoid using the word "you" whenever possible.
"It’s perceived as an attack and will result in defensiveness or, worse, a counter attack," she says. Instead, Doares suggests framing your thoughts as "I" statements — "When this happens, I feel..." — because it sounds less accusatory.
3. Ask Clarifying Questions
At its core, an argument is really just an attempt for two people to come to a mutual understanding — which will happen much faster if you're genuinely interested in each other's point of view, and willing to ask questions to better understand it.
"Taking a position of curiosity or confusion and asking clarifying questions is helpful," Doares says. "'Help me understand' or 'I’m confused on this point, tell me more' are non-threatening ways to gain more information about each other’s positions."
4. Consider The Timing Of The Conversation
There's no good time to argue, but there are many, many examples of bad times to start an argument — and if you start an important discussion at the wrong time, it can make it even more difficult to navigate.
"Choose the timing of the conversation with care," Doares says. "Don’t blindside your partner as they are headed out the door or when they are focused on something else. If it’s an important or ongoing issue, make sure they know what you want to talk about and make sure they are OK to talk about it."
5. Focus On Sharing, Not Persuading
One of the tell-tale signs of an unproductive argument? If you're more concerned with convincing your partner to concede to your point of view than you are with actually listening to their thoughts and feelings, that's a red flag.
"Focus more on sharing than persuading," Theresa Herring, LMFT, Couples Counselor at Centered Connections, tells Bustle. "Chances are that you and your partner aren't going to see eye-to-eye. That's okay. You're two different people. But arguments can give you an opportunity to share and hear different opinions and experiences. Do this well and you'll find that arguments can bring you closer instead of further apart."
6. Don't Try To "Win" An Argument
Arguments aren't about who's right or wrong — so you should never be focused on "winning" an argument. Instead, make the goal of each argument to reach a compromise that works for both of you.
"If you're trying to win, your relationship will lose," Herring says. "Focus on compromise instead. This means figuring out what your non-negotiables are and where you can budge. You don't want to compromise on something that is a non-negotiable. But there's a lot more gray area than couples often realize."
7. Always Stay Respectful
It should go without saying, but in a healthy relationship, you should always treat your partner with respect — even (or perhaps especially) at times when you're upset with each other.
"This person is not the enemy, they are someone that you love," Herring says. "Treat each other respectfully. That means no yelling, throwing, or name-calling."
8. Schedule A Time To "Revisit" Arguments
Arguments might happen on the spur of the moment, but according to Erin K. Tierno, LCSW and Relationship Therapist, your relationship can benefit from scheduling a time every week or so to "review" any arguments you've had lately.
"When issues arise in between this set time, write them down and agree to return to them in the scheduled meeting," Tierno tells Bustle. "This method assumes that the relationship will continue, rather than requiring a knockdown drag-out fight that has to be resolved right in that very moment."
9. Know It's OK To Go To Bed Angry
The old relationship cliche that you should never go to bed angry might sound romantic in theory, but it's unrealistic to assume that any given issue can be resolved before bedtime.
"You can be angry and still have access to the feeling of love and respect for your partner at the same time," Tierno says. "Not going to bed angry should simply mean that you can set aside your argument at a reasonable hour and come back to it another time when you have both had the rest you need, or the time to reflect that helps you have curiosity about and compassion for your partner’s perspective."
Ultimately, there's no secret trick that can make every argument you have in your relationship magically disappear. But if you and your partner practice good communication habits and make an effort to have more productive arguments, the fights you do have will be much more manageable.