4 Ways to Argue More Fairly
Fighting can be healthy for couples — if you do it right
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes … conflict? Do arguments with a spouse mean that a relationship is doomed to fail? Of course not! This just in: Even healthy couples argue.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Family Issues concluded that the level of conflict in a marriage tends to remain steady throughout the relationship. If you fought a lot in the beginning, you will probably fight throughout. If you fought a little in the beginning and quickly learned to work through your disagreements, you will likely continue to work through areas of conflict peacefully along the way.
But whether you fight a little or a lot has less to do with the health of the marriage than with how you both handle conflicts as they arise, say experts.
When couples rely on negative coping strategies they quickly establish patterns that can result in resentment and frustration. “A lot of what happens is a lack of mindfulness and a failure to manage your own emotions,” explains psychotherapist and relationship expert Kelly Flannigan Bos, MSW. “You feel pulled into a repetitive cycle.”
The key to breaking those patterns is identifying the go-to strategies that aren’t working, and replacing them with positive solutions. Flannigan Bos identifies four common pitfalls when it comes to fighting fair, and how to correct them.
Avoid: The silent treatment
Some people need time to process their emotions before engaging in an emotionally charged conversation. Other people, however, use silence to hurt their partners.
“The silent treatment is generally about withholding love or respect to punish,” explains Flannigan Bos. “It’s a way to avoid identifying feelings.” Stuffing feelings and emotions leads to increased anger.
Healthy alternative: “Instead of simmering on the inside, share your feelings and perspective, and be open to listening to your partner’s side of the argument,” counsels Flannigan Bos. “If you need more time to process your feelings, explain that, and plan a time to talk later.”
Avoid: Hitting below the belt
This person reacts to feeling hurt by resorting to being mean. Instead of talking about his or her true feelings, he or she looks for areas of weakness to identify in the other person. It might be an attempt to force the other to empathize — e.g. You’re always the first one to criticize me! — but this only increases upset feelings.
Healthy alternative: “A better response is to identify the feeling and establish healthy boundaries,” advises Flannigan Bos. Use “I statements” to verbalize your feelings, and then offer a healthy solution. Example: I feel anxious when I don’t know when you’re coming home. Please text me if your plans change so that I know what to expect.
Avoid: The blame game
It’s tempting to blame others when emotions run high, but this generally doesn’t solve the problem. For instance, proclaiming that the reason you both don’t spend time together is because your partner is always working, keeps you stuck in the same place, and doesn’t allow for change.
Healthy alternative: “Couples can break the cycle of blame by refusing to engage in old patterns,” says Flannigan Bos. Try restating the problem and identifying potential solutions. Example: We don’t spend enough time together. Weekly date nights would really help.
Avoid: Third party dependency
Sometimes couples seek input from friends in an effort to feel validated or understood, but this can backfire. No one likes to be talked about or have one-sided details of their relationship shared with others.
Healthy alternative: Couples therapy can help both partners feel understood and teach couples
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