Arguing. Most of us cringe at the sound of the word. Is it healthy? Is it as damaging as we think it is?
The answer: it can be both.
Arguing is a very important part of every relationship. It helps couples come together, understand each other better and figure out how to move forward in a supportive manner.
But be careful- arguing can easily slip into an unhealthy place. If one person seeks to control or hold power over the other person, arguing becomes toxic.
Unhealthy arguing can happen in the following ways:
- Desire to “win”
- Telling you how you should be feeling
- Guilt Trips
- Using fear tactics such as threats or physical acts of violence
Some of these behaviors can slip out in even the most healthy of relationships (obviously, the fear one is never ok). However, if these tactics become habitual, it shifts into emotional abuse.
Yep. I used the “A” word. Abuse. It’s scary right?
I don’t know about you, but I’m always conscience of staying far away from anything close to abuse. Not only do I make sure that my partner stays away from these behaviors, but I also want to make sure that I stay away from these abusive tendencies.
I feel like as an abuse survivor, I have unhealthy habits ingrained into my being. I have to work extra hard to not let those habits slip out.
So how do we argue in a healthy way?
The answer is simple. Aim for the following goals when disagreements arise:
- Look at disagreements as a shared issue to fix
- Focus on the problem at hand- do not deviate
- Don’t bring up extraneous factors
- Make sure to keep your friendship strong before arguments hit
- Try to understand how the opposite person is feeling.
- Use repair attempts
- Assume the best in your partner and expect that they do the same
- Be sensitive to timing- don’t discuss anything in the heat of the moment
- Attack the issue not your spouse
- Be proactive in finding a compromise
- Keep loving while fighting
- Maintain your perspective
- Don’t use what I like to call “cement words” such as “you always” and “you never.”
That’s a lot. Here’s a simple format to follow:
Pick a quiet place and time after both parties have cooled down.
One person speaks at a time while the other person takes notes.
Problem: 1 or 2 sentences stating what exactly the problem is.
——- Why? Keeping it to 1 or 2 sentences helps to narrow down the precise issue and keep it away from becoming a “you suck” party. Its soooooo enticing to let this time become a dump for all relationship frustrations. But that’s unproductive and most likely, hurtful.
Feelings: 1-2 sentences about how the problem makes you feel.
—— Why? Its important to use phrases such as “I felt hurt when…” or “that was an anger button for me because…” to help your partner understand you. But, just like above, it shouldn’t turn into a frustration dump. It’s not the time to give an essay about why you feel the way you do. Just keep it simple and straight to the point.
Solution: Suggest a solution that could benefit both people. Moving forward, how can you prevent this from happening in the future?
—— Why? This should be the whole point of the argument. Your goal is to fix the problem and come closer together with your partner. Take your partner’s thoughts and feelings into consideration when coming up with an idea.
Validate: Use a sentence such as “I can see how you felt that way” or “that makes sense that you felt that way.” This could also be a time to apologize if appropriate.
—–Why? Validation is a magical tool that can repair wounded feelings. Its a simple way to show that despite the challenging situation, you really do care.
Feelings: 1-2 sentences to the core of what you are feeling.
—— Why? This is important because there are always two sides to every issue. In order to reach a successful compromise, you need to understand how both parties are feeling. However, like above, feelings need to be concise and to the point.
Solution: Either accept the proposed solution or suggest another solution.
Repeat back to the beginning if unable to come to a solution.
To make it easier, I have created this discussion template
This is the exact format my husband and I have used for the past 5 years. There have been many arguments that seemed unfixable in the moment. But we kept trying. We cooled off and used this format and found a place where we could both be satisfied.
Sometimes it takes one night. Sometime it takes months but eventually, we figure out the core issue and find a solution.
Arguing in a healthy way is worth it. It’s hard, in fact it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do but I promise- if both parties genuinely try to find a solution- it’s worth it to keep fighting.
- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Lauer, Robert H. (1994). Marriage and family : the quest for intimacy. Madison, Wis. :Brown & Benchmark,