Are Arguments Ruining Your Relationship?
As a counsellor specialising in couples work, without a doubt the number one issue I come across is how a couple deals with conflict.
So, if you are struggling with how you deal with conflict in your life, or always seem to be arguing with a loved one don’t despair, all is not lost. Conflict is normal and inevitable, but very few people are taught the skills needed to negotiate it in a calm, confident, productive way.
Here are 14 tips to help you approach conflict differently and reduce the number of arguments in your life. Whilst they were written with couples in mind, they work just as effectively for work colleagues, friends, and family.
As you read each tip think about how you and your partner/ex/colleague/friend /or family member currently communicate in stressful situations. If you keep on doing it the same way you have always done it, you will get the same results. Perhaps it’s time to try something a little different;
TIP #1 – Remember, you will get better results by focusing on changing what you do, rather than trying to change the other person. You cannot control the other person, you can only change what you do and hopefully that will have a knock on effect on the other person’s behaviour. Own what’s yours.
TIP #2 – Pick your timing. Do not start a potentially difficult conversation when someone has to leave for work, just before you go to bed, or when someone has a deadline approaching. Do not ambush them when they walk in the door, or if they have had a particularly tough day or week. Think about how you would react if the roles were reversed.
TIP #3 – Keep your tone calm, neutral, and respectful. Think about how you would wish to be spoken to if the roles were reversed. Arguments often escalate because of how the message is being said rather than what is being said.
TIP #4 – Don’t go there when you’re mad. It’s a recipe for disaster. Talk a walk, go to the gym, talk to a friend, journal. Do whatever works for you to get the anger out until you’re ready to talk about it calmly.
TIP #5 – Go one at a time, and don’t interrupt. If one partner regularly interrupts or dominates the conversation consider using a “talking stick”. This can be as simple as a wooden spoon or the TV remote control. Whoever has the stick may talk. The other person can only talk to clarify a point until it is their turn to respond.
TIP #6 – Take a deep breath and try and think before you speak. Harsh and hurtful words cannot be taken back once said, and won’t be forgotten by the recipient. Remember, you are in control of what you say and do. It is your choice whether you take the bait and let it get away from you.
TIP #7 – Turn your complaint into a request. Focus on what you would like to happen rather than blaming the other person for what they are doing. Ask for what you want as you would like to be asked for something. Remove the accusation and blame by starting sentences with “I” rather than “You” and you’ll have a much more receptive audience.
TIP #8 – No-one is right ALL the time. This is about finding a solution that works for both of you. For one side to win, the other has to lose. For those who persistently fight to be right, the relationship is the loser. One partner becomes dominant, whilst the other feels unheard and resentful causing long-term damage to the relationship if it is not dealt with.
TIP #9 – Discussions escalate into arguments when either one, or both sides, don’t feel heard and acknowledged. Each side then pushes harder to be understood, stops listening to the other person, and then tempers rise. Take a deep breath, switch off your ‘inner defensive need to be right monologue’, and be curious about really trying to understand where the other person is coming from.
TIP #10 – ACKNOWLEDGE, ACKNOWLEDGE, ACKNOWLEDGE. The aim of conflict resolution is for BOTH sides to feel heard and their feelings acknowledged, even if it is hard to understand their perspective, or particularly if you disagree with it. Two people can have a completely different experience and perspective on the same issue. This is normal. Both are valid. Biting your tongue and acknowledging how painful/hard/frustrating that must have been for them goes a long way to defusing most situations, and will hopefully then give you the opportunity to calmly present your side.
TIP #11 – If you are struggling to control your anger, take a time out for at least 20 minutes. It has been scientifically proven that it takes that long for the brain to calm down. It is really important to agree a time/day to resume the conversation so that the issue is revisited and not left unresolved.
TIP #12 – The other person MUST respect the request for a time out. If they don’t, remove yourself from the argument, stress that you are doing so to allow you both to calm down, and that you are happy to resume the conversation either later in the day or on another specified day.
TIP #13 – If all else fails; agree to disagree, and look to revisit it at a later date. If it is a topic that is just too contentious to work out between you consider getting some objective professional help from a counsellor that specialises in couples counselling.
TIP #14 – Try practicing these techniques daily on the “small stuff” where there is not so much emotionally at stake. Just try one or two techniques to start with and see how you go. You’ll then be more prepared for when the bigger issues come up.
Remember, this takes practice. Change takes time, and you will make mistakes, but you can do this.
It will get away from you, and you will have bad days, even if you have been successfully implementing this for a long time.
Remember, conflict is normal, getting angry and frustrated is normal; it’s how you deal with it that’s the key.
Just when you think you have both lost control and it seems hopeless, all it takes is for one party to take a deep breath, step up, be the hero, ask for a time out, and reset the course of the discussion.
©Are Arguments Ruining Your Relationship? – Clare Randall is a general counsellor and relationship specialist. She practices in West Melbourne, Australia, and can be contacted via her website www.oaktreecounselling.com.au