Even the happiest and most compatible couple will disagree from time to time, and sometimes these arguments will become quite serious. While it’s healthy to debate contentious issues with your partner, it’s vital to learn how to argue fairly, communicate clearly and avoid holding grudges. Here are three key tips that will help you deal with disagreements in an honest, even-handed manner.
When you are in a heated debate with another person, it can be very difficult to practice good listening skills. However, arguments tend to spiral out of control when the participants stop listening. Firstly, if you don’t listen to what your partner is saying, you will not be able to understand their perspective or figure out what can be done to reach a compromise. Secondly, failing to listen can lead to hearing what you think your partner is saying, which is often much more cruel, offensive or significant than what your partner is actually saying. Since many arguments begin with a misunderstanding, clearing up possible ambiguities should be one of your first goals. As a bonus, careful listening shows respect and interest, which can take some of the viciousness out of a fight.
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Try to empathize
Once you start listening to what is being said, you can start trying to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Ask yourself what is really causing the anger or upset. If your partner has misunderstood something, could you have facilitated that misunderstanding? Does a particular outcome seem frightening? How would you feel if you had your partner’s unique background or concerns? Working to understand what your partner is feeling (as opposed to simply knowing what is being felt) can help you to feel less angry and also help you to come up with more imaginative and effective ways to resolve the argument. If you are obviously trying to extend empathy, this will also calm your partner, as you will be demonstrating a desire to see things from the opposing perspective.
Be aware of your own defense mechanisms
When you argue, you will typically feel attacked (even if you have instigated the argument). When you feel vulnerable in this way, you will begin to deploy defense mechanisms that help to prevent you from ‘losing’ the argument and protect the image you have of yourself from being damaged by critical claims made by your partner. However, defense mechanisms can get in the way of distinguishing fair allegations from unfair ones, so you need to be somewhat aware of how you tend to protect yourself. For example, you might be likely to deny the truth of what your partner says at all costs, without even reflecting on whether it is true. Alternatively, you might have a tendency to regress, attacking with childish insults or retreating to sulk. Once you know about the things that you do to protect yourself, you will slowly become more objective about whether you are being fair when you argue with your partner.