Pick your battles. It’s really important to weigh the consequences of an argument. Every little issue is not worth fighting about. Some things should be tabled for another day and others should be fully addressed in the moment. You have to weigh the costs and benefits of addressing each situation. Is it worth sleeping on the couch? Is it worth hearing her crying in the bathroom? Is it worth trying to do damage control? You have to consider this BEFORE you open your mouth to say something that you know you will regret.
Set the ground rules for discussing major issues- It’s important to first consider the what, how and when questions. What are we discussing? How do we address the problem? When do we discuss the problem?
The What: So many times we start arguing and by the end of it, we don’t even know what the argument was about. Make sure that you stick to the issue- don’t go way out in left field just to try to get your point across. Ask yourself “why am I upset?” Are you angry because they forgot to clean the bathtub or are you really upset that you have to do all the cleaning around the house with little to no help? Rather than picking a fight about the tub, discuss what the real issue is- you need help with the housework. Are you frustrated because he never comes home or do you just miss spending time together? Same feeling of loneliness but expressed in a totally different way.
The How: How you communicate is so important. Do you feel that you have to yell or nag to get your point across? Do you feel you have to belittle your partner to get them to do what you want? Make sure you discuss the issue- NOT the person. Don’t degrade your partner- this is only transferring your negative feelings onto them so that they can feel just as bad as you do. Put-downs are often a reflection of our own inadequacies. Tone of voice and choice of words are also important. When you speak, are you making demands or offering suggestions? The way you talk to someone often determines their response to you. Take turns talking. Don’t try to dominate the conversation. Actively listen to your partner- try to understand where they are coming from before trying to force your point of view. Listen to the problem rather than problem solving. Many times you may feel that you have the solution to the problem but you haven’t fully understood the issue. Learn to BE QUIET!!! Let your partner express their feelings without interjection. Then when it’s your turn to talk, express your feelings and take full responsibility for them. Use “I” rather than “you” because it is less offensive and it helps you own your own feelings.
The When: “Do we have to talk about this now?” Consider when you discuss issues. You don’t want to get into a big confrontation in front of the kids. You don’t want to bring up a major concern while he’s watching the big game. You don’t want to interrupt while she’s watching her favorite chick flick or reading her latest book. Be considerate! Let them know in advance that you want to discuss an issue and give them time to process. Sometimes your partner just needs a little space- don’t push them when they are not ready. This can become annoying which in turn could fuel the argument.
Validation and Empathy. Acknowledge how they feel and tell them it’s OK. Express deep concern for their feelings and be cognizant of how you respond. You may not agree with what they feel, but that doesn’t give you the right to negate or override with your own opinion.
One problem at a time- Don’t try to discuss multiple issues at once. Make sure you discuss one problem at a time. And you don’t want to bring up everything your spouse has ever done wrong just because you’re upset. This only makes matters worse and doesn’t really address the immediate issue.
Where is your focus? Be sure to focus on the problem and don’t criticize the person. Usually there is a reason for a problem and it would help to identify why the it exists. If there is no money left over in the bank, could it be because you’re spending beyond your means? If the household is out of control, could it be that you are not working together to discipline the kids? It’s not always THEIR FAULT. Sometimes you contribute to the problem as well.
No perfect way to argue. There isn’t always a perfect answer in an argument. Sometimes your spouse may say the wrong thing. But try to be empathetic toward the feeling, not necessary the words. It may come out wrong the first time, but give them the opportunity to get it right. “What I hear is this… is that what you mean?”
That was unnecessary! In the event that they DO intend to push your buttons, you may need to take a time out to cool off. You need to be able to think in a logical, objective manner in order to solve difficult problems. Too much emotion takes away from the ability to compromise and understand.
Where did that come from? Most anger stems from hurt, fear, humiliation, frustration or rejection. It’s important to identify the source of the anger and make efforts to understand it. Then you can come to a level of focusing on the exact issue and the feeling that corresponds.
The more you practice these tips, the better you will become at diffusing arguments. The more you can communicate your feelings without throwing jabs, the better your relationship will be. Understand that forcing your opinion on someone else doesn’t solve the problem. They may shut down and go along with you, but the issue will remain unresolved and the feelings of frustration will remain. Learn to “work through” tough situations rather than sweeping them under the rug. And know that it’s OK to agree to disagree as long as there is some form of compromise in the end.