We won’t always agree with our partner. At times they may make us angry, push our trigger points, and in all honesty make us feel like we are going crazy. Relationships can be complicated and a lot of this arises from miscommunication or lack of communication.
Often when couples fight about a lot of things the fight is not about the things at all. It’s about something bigger and often hidden from both people. We don’t want to fight but we do want to be heard and seen. We want to feel valued, appreciated, and respected. It is easy though to fall into a cycle of bickering and arguing over things like driving, what to eat for dinner, chores around the house, and schedules. These fights can get messy and make us feel alone and isolated while in a partnership.
Having disagreements or debates with our partner is healthy. We all have different views and perspectives, but we should be able to talk about these things without it hurting the other person. We also have to feel safe enough to talk about whatever is bugging us without the fear it will not be heard, or it will not be well received. We need to focus on understanding and listening instead of blaming and disengaging. We need to be present for our relationships and this can be difficult.
Here are some key tools that can help you:
1- Evaluate the circumstances
What is their intention? Often people are not out to hurt you, even when it feels like they are. Or if someone did say something hurtful, they did not mean for it to hurt you as bad as it did. We often don’t realize how different things can trigger people based on their past experiences.
No one can see your personal triggers unless you tell them what they are and why they are there. You need to feel comfortable and safe enough to do so with your partner. When your partner says something that really hurts you can check in from their point of view and ask yourself what is their intention? Remember that everyone deserves to be treated with respect — even during an argument. If your partner curses you, calls you names or ridicules you, tell them to stop. If they don’t, walk away and tell them that you don’t want to continue arguing right now.
People are not mind readers. No one can read your mind. It’s a common reaction to shut down when we have been hurt after an argument but for a healthy relationship with your partner it is important to tell him/her how you feel, they don’t just know, even when we think they should…
It is a good idea to take a few deep belly breaths first and not attack the other person for hurting you but to explain and check in to know what their intention was with their behavior.
Really work to listen to your partner during a disagreement. To communicate well we have to listen and be present. Often, we think we are listening but really, we are planning what we are going to say next and we wouldn’t be able to even summarise what our partner has just said. You need to set aside “right or wrong” and instead work to hear what the other person is saying.
Active listening is a skill that takes time to develop and it is one of the best gifts you can give someone. Listening shows you are engaged and interested in what the other person is saying. You listen with your body language, eye contact, and ability to summarise and ask clarifying questions. You remind yourself to stay calm and remain genuinely interested in what they are saying. An argument is not about who is right or wrong but about communication and understanding. It is not about fixing the problem right away but honouring another’s emotions and point of view.
4- Be curious
Allow yourself to be curious with your partner when you are disagreeing. Try to see if you can put yourself in their shoes, understand it from where they are sitting with their own unique history, beliefs, and ways of thinking. Get curious and ask questions, if this person you love has a different point of view try to understand how they are seeing the situation. This does not mean you have to agree with them or drop your side but just allow yourself to be curious rather than trying to prove a point or convince them of your side.
Steven Covey made a great argument with regards to looking for win-win or no deal solutions in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey, 2013). When we think win/win we have to employ courage and consideration to find a mutually beneficial resolution. If one cannot be found, then a “agree to disagree” solution can be made until a win-win can be formed. This principle can be applied to all relationships if we go for a win/loss in an argument we risk abusing our power over our partner which causes hurt and disconnection. If we go for a lose/win to try to keep the peace we will build up resentment.
5- Time Outs
When an argument gets heated it is okay to take a time out. To remove yourself from the situation to calm down. If we get too upset, angry, or emotional we can lose ourselves and things can spiral out of control. Remember to respect the safety, respect the physical space and refuse intimidation or manipulation.
You can even talk to your partner about this strategy if you have a habit of getting heated and say anyone can say “pause” to take a time out. You can go to another room and take a few slow deep belly breaths. This can bring down your nervous system out of “fight or flight” and give you some perspective. You could also go for a walk, do some meditation or mindfulness to come back to the present moment and collect your thoughts.
It is important though to come back together once both parties have calmed down to find a resolution, a win-win in an open truthful intention.
6- Looking Under the Hood
Often our fights and disagreements have nothing to do with what we are fighting about. Feelings like anger are just secondary emotions to an underlying feeling such as fear or pain. It takes a lot of courage to look under the hood to see what is really going on. What is really making you so upset? When he wants to spend more time with his friends you may be worried he doesn’t like you anymore or he may cheat (a fear triggered from past relationships), when she doesn’t want to be intimate you think she is not interested in you anymore. Often our fear lays unconscious but if we can tap into them and communicate them with our partner gently it can create more closeness and intimacy.
We come into our relationships with baggage and when we argue it can easily get thrown all over the room. We need to take the time to understand what our triggers are and how to communicate them to our partner in a way they can hear. We need to feel safe enough to be vulnerable. We need to feel seen and heard by our partner. To create a safe space in arguments we have to be curious, listen and try to understand the other’s point of view.
Many of us were not taught how to communicate in a healthy way. Many of us are not aware of our triggers and patterns. It’s important to slow down and seek to understand yourself and your partner so your arguments can result in greater, trust, intimacy and love.
Good luck in your next “challenging argument” and if you need more tips or would like to discuss this further, just send your question to “Ask the Healer” or “Book a Free Discovery Call” and find out how we can help you ensure a healthy and happy relating process 😉
Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. New York City: Simon & Schuster, Inc; Anniversary edition