Even in the happiest of relationships, there will be conflict. Sometimes it is a small disagreement; other times it feels like it could turn into an all out battle. Arguing with someone you care about is not easy or fun, and sometimes it feels like a seemingly unstoppable train moving full speed ahead.
Most of us could give long lists of ways to escalate an argument: finger-pointing, blaming, being verbally abusive, etc. But often in times of stress we lack the tools to figure out how to turn an argument around and avoid the conflict or at least cool it down.
Ideally, arguments should be about listening, being heard, compromise and solving problems. They should not be about winning, one-ups-man-ship or scorching your partner with insults or accusations.
These tips will help you get through arguments in healthy and constructive ways:
1. Stay alert
Watch for the danger signals that let you know you are headed into an argument to begin with. Things like criticizing, blaming, making statements such as “you always” and “you never,” the raising of voices, nasty language or trying to assert power over the other person are all clear indicators that a fight is brewing.
2. Take a breather
If you are the one who initiated the argument: take some time to cool off, gather your thoughts, and address your partner with the intention of getting your point across without things getting heated. Try to focus on communicating instead of “letting your partner have it,” or “making him or her pay.” If you realize that the discussion is taking a turn for the worse, suggest taking a break and starting things up again later.
3. Listen with respect
If you are on the receiving end of an angry litany, let your partner know that you want to hear what he or she has to say and that you do not wish to argue. Attempt to listen in a respectful and interested way, indicating that you are trying to understand his or her point of view—even if you do not agree.
4. Keep priorities straight
Whichever end of the argument you find yourself on, always be respectful and kind. Remember, you love this person.
5. Try to win together
Remember that winning is about both of you walking away in a more peaceful and happy state. Do your best to avoid thinking about how you can win this argument or get your way, and instead think about how you both can win via compromise, by making a new plan of how to handle things for the future, or agreeing to disagree.
6. Avoid sounding like a broken record
Even if you have a legitimate complaint, catch yourself and make sure you don’t repeat that complaint over and over again. Say your piece, try to solve the problem and move on. If you feel that you are not being heard or understood, try expressing yourself in a new way.
7. Let go when possible
Ask yourself how much this issue really matters and if you can let it go. Sometimes distracting yourself or focusing on the positive about your partner can help you move out of frustration and back into a happy state of mind.
8. Think about solutions
Going ‘round and ‘round in an argument just makes both people feel unhappy. Put your heads together and try to find a solution—a way out of the struggle and into a better mode of functioning.
9. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
You don’t have to agree with what your partner is saying in order to make an effort to see where he or she is coming from. When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, often you can figure out why something is bothering him or her, and possibly help rectify it. The other benefit is that most people in an argument will calm down if they feel another person is understanding—or making the effort to understand and listen to—what they are trying to say.
10. Change the tone
When conversations get heated, inserting a change in style can help lighten the mood. Throw in a bit of humor, a smile, or an inside joke. Start with something like, “Even though we are disagreeing, I appreciate that you are at least hearing out what I have to say.” And finally, try not to “pile on” by throwing in every grudge you’ve had for 15 years. Stick to the problem at hand.
Taking the time out to improve your conflict-resolution skills will not just help your relationship, it will improve your overall happiness, and we know that there are so many benefits that go with being happy!
Stacy Kaiser is a licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is also the author of the best-selling book, How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and an editor-at-large for Live Happy. Stacy is a frequent guest on television programs such as Today and Good Morning America.