Relationship Arguments (and how to stop having them)
Relationship arguments are a part of life. You can be the healthiest couple on the planet and still argue with one another. In fact, sometimes arguing can actually be crucial to the long-term success of a healthy, productive relationship. Couples who don’t argue at all often have more pent up anger at one another than couples who do, and without the tools to argue effectively, the eventual confrontation becomes ugly, messy and unproductive.
But what happens if you and your partner are always arguing? If you’re that friend who’s always talking about “arguing with my boyfriend” or “getting into it with my wife,” chances are good you’re feeling a little distraught about the state of your relationship right now.
The good news? Learning how to move past arguing is a skill that can be learned. The bad news, however, is that most advice columnists approach relationship arguments from a completely backwards perspective — which means there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Let’s clear up some of that misinformation and learn how to deal with arguments properly, shall we?
How to avoid arguments in a relationship
This first section is all about how to avoid relationship arguments, if that’s what you intend to do. Note that this isn’t always preferable, nor is it always possible. Sometimes your partner will force a confrontation, and sometimes your relationship will demand it. Despite this, there are tools you can use to reduce the severity of an unproductive argument, and even prevent one outright. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Would you rather be right or happy?
Whether you’re the argument initiator or the one that’s being initiated upon, this is going to be your most productive tool in your toolkit. The next time you’re in a relationship argument with your boyfriend or girlfriend, ask yourself: “Would I rather be right or happy?”
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always possible to have both. What do we mean by this? To illustrate, let’s say your partner brought you lunch at work, but they got your order completely wrong. In your head, you might think your partner is forgetful, clumsy or doesn’t listen well — and it’s possible some of that’s right, but it’s also possible it isn’t.
In this instance, you could be right and tell your partner that they’re forgetful for messing up your order… or you could be happy that they decided to bring you food at work at all. Do you call your partner out, or do you say nothing and decide to have a good day regardless?
Many long-term couples would do the former, instead of the latter. But doing so means the need to be right forces those couples to sacrifice their happiness in the moment. The truth is that being right often comes at a high cost, but it costs nothing to choose to be happy.
2. You can start the change you want to see
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t “take two to tango.” While people think it takes two people to shift the nature of a relationship, it actually only takes one to start that shift. Think about it this way: if two people are dancing, and one person changes up their moves, the other person’s going to have to follow suit, or else fall out of the dance.
Either way, it only takes that one person to decide to change in order for the relationship to shift. So, will you wait until your partner starts changing their ways? Or will you nip your relationship arguments in the bud by choosing to approach those situations differently?
3. Keep your eyes on your own paper
Often times, we feel the need to espouse what we’ve learned about life on others. It’s human nature to want to teach others what we know, especially if what we know has been useful to us. However, this can bleed over ineffectively in a relationship setting.
How so? Here’s an example: when you’re in an argument, it can be easy to want to get your partner onboard with your outlook, lifestyle, choices or beliefs. You might want them to be better about saving their money, or more ambitious in their career aspirations. Maybe you want them to be closer to your family, or maybe you just want them to clean up after themselves around the house.
Despite the fact that these desires come from a healthy place, they’re also an easy way to start unnecessary arguments. How would you feel if your partner came in and started telling you how to live your life? While you’re allowed to hold your partner accountable, once you begin micro-managing their specific idiosyncrasies, relationship arguments are bound to happen. After all, you can’t “get water from a wall:” your partner is who they are, and while they can choose to change, you can’t “argue” them into becoming a different person.
Try this: behave in the way you want, and if others are onboard with you, they’ll follow suit. If not, and the infraction keeps happening? Make your next steps very clear. Don’t put up a boundary, but do tell your partner that you’ll be making decisions based on their actions. If you hate that your partner smokes, don’t argue them into stopping, but tell them the truth — they can smoke when and wherever they want, but you won’t be around when they do it.
In essence, you’re keeping your eyes on your own paper. You’re not telling anyone else how to live their life; you’re merely showing others what you want and need through your own actions and choices.
How to handle arguments in a relationship
Alright. We’ve gotten through the “avoidance” section of this article (again, the word avoid is problematic when it comes to arguing, but you get the idea…). However, relationship arguments can’t always be avoided, nor should they be. So how do you handle arguing when it happens? Here’s some tips.
1. Use contrast as a tool
Much as we do with life struggles, when we’re in relationship arguments, we’re focusing on things we don’t like. And do you want to know something? That’s amazing! That might sound strange, but the truth is, when we know what we really don’t like, it’s much easier to gain clarity about what we’d like to have. This is what we call “contrast.”
You can use contrast as a tool in relationship arguments. The next time you’re experiencing a problem with your partner, approach things from the standpoint of what you’d love to see, instead of what you hate about your partner’s behavior. Focus on the qualities and elements of your relationship you’d love to bring out, strengthen and improve, instead of the ones you want to abolish.
The result? When arguments do happen, they’ll happen much more effectively.
2. Decline to get into the ring
This might sound obvious, but sometimes you don’t need to get in the ring with your partner. When someone gives you an invitation to fight, decline. When someone gives you an invitation to solve problems, happily accept. Think about what your partner wants out of you next time you’re starting up an argument, and make a critical choice about where you want that conversation to go.
In other words: this is your tacit permission to leave the ring when a fight breaks out. Instead, call your partner up later and ask to meet them somewhere more productive — maybe at a table where the two of you can work on your relationship.
3. Assume positive intent
When you’re in a relationship argument, it can be really easy to paint your partner as “the bad guy.” But it’s always best to assume positive intent — that means presuming that everyone (yes, even your frustrating partner) means well and comes from a good place.
The truth is, all of us have an internal dialogue that spins around in our mind about all the people we interact with, and that dialogue informs our experiences and exchanges with others. By tapping into our own inner dialogue and removing any negative thoughts we have about someone before we start conversing with them, we’re able to better understand the people in our lives for who they are, rather than who we’re making them out to be.
If you’re going to assume anything about others, it should be that they’re kind and want to help you. The alternative is to assume everyone’s out to get you, or that they have bad intentions altogether. No matter if that’s true or not, it’s a completely unproductive thought, and it makes you on edge about every interaction you have.
4. Start journaling with a trusted source
Alright, you’ve made it this far. That means you’re ready for our FINAL tip. When it comes to relationship arguments, it often helps to get a little outside counsel. That’s because it can be easy to get so ingrained in our own relationship dynamics and challenges that we fail to see what we’re doing wrong — or what we’re getting right.
Getting an outside perspective is all about having someone else to check your biases, ask important questions, and challenge your current patterns. Plus, doing so can inspire your partner to do the same, and seek outside counsel of their own.
But what does an “outside perspective” look like? For couples with extreme trauma or difficult experiences to move through (such as infidelity), a relationship counselor might be a good fit. But for many couples, hiring a therapist to pick apart their inner lives might not feel warranted for the kinds of challenges they’re facing. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to pull in a couples’ counselor just because you’re annoyed that your partner’s a slob.
That’s where we come in. Yes, the mysterious forces that wrote this article do, indeed, know a few things about relationships, and how to improve them. We’re not therapists — instead, we’re coaches. The difference is that while therapists look at the past to uncover and overcome deep-seated problems, coaches look to strengthen a person’s future. We’re not curious about what can’t be changed; we’re curious about what wonderful things are in store for you down the road.
How’s it work? Simple. You reach out to us through journal entries, and we respond with our own thoughts and questions. All of it gets wrapped up in a neat little journaling platform that you can review and use 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s low-to-no-pressure, yet just as accessible and affordable as traditional therapy.
The truth is, we could talk about what we do all day, but we get that not everyone’s as jazzed about the inner workings of relationship coaching as we are… so instead, we’ll just send you here. Poke around, see what you like, and drop us a message if it feels right. Either way, we’re wishing the best for you and your relationship going forward, and we hope our tools here today can be put to good use the next time you’re in a disagreement with your partner.