7 rules for healthier arguments
Do you want to learn how to argue better with your spouse? Have you met married couples that claim “we never argue”?
Don’t feel insecure about your marriage when you hear those couples, because they are most-definitely lying or in denial. Fighting is a downright guarantee in any marriage. Hoping for a lifetime of conflict-free marital bliss is not realistic. In fact, occasional fights with your spouse are healthy if you do them right.
A more realistic marital goal would be to have healthier fights, not to eliminate them altogether.
To make conflicts less painful and more beneficial, try establishing these seven rules proven to make fights fairer.
1) Keep it quiet
Screaming can intensify an argument in a matter of seconds. A human scream actually elicits a fear response from the brain, so on a biological level, yelling at your spouse releases chemicals making them feel attacked and anxious. What do we do when attacked? Defend ourselves, of course. Screaming spouses are less likely to make concessions (see rule number 4) and more likely to get trapped in a cycle of criticism and defense.
2) Never, ever issue threats
This one is obvious, but in the heat of the moment, you might feel like intimidating your spouse into submission. Blackmailing your partner with talk of withholding sex (bad), cheating (worse) or divorce (worst) will not produce the outcome you want. These threats will only escalate the situation and create new problems. When you feel the urge to make threats, it‘s a sign you should exit the fight and continue when you’re calmer. Once you make those threats, you can’t take them back and it becomes very difficult to reestablish trust.
3) Be specific
Nobody likes blanket statements, and they are rarely accurate. Eliminate “always” and “never” from your vocabulary come argument time. If your spouse starts speaking in extremes, then you should press them for specifics. Instead of saying “You always do ___,” offer specific instances when your partner actually did what you’re accusing them of.
4) Make concessions
Newsflash: you’re not always right and no one is perfect. Your spouse knows you better than anyone, so their assertions about you are probably correct, on some level. Don’t defend yourself at every turn, blindly rejecting accusations. Replace your defensiveness with curiosity and ask questions instead of stopping the conversation. Fighting is a give and take that should end in a compromise, not stonewalling. Know when to concede and when to stand your ground.
5) It’s not a contest
This isn’t your high-school speech and debate competition. Don’t treat a martial argument like a contest, because there are no winners. Some couples fight because they need validation, or the chance to say “I told you so.” Framing the fight as a battle eliminates the possibility of mutual understanding because you’re both too busy competing for validation. Instead, think of your argument as a pop quiz. Can you find the right answers to the problems at hand? If so, then your reward for passing is a stronger relationship.
6) Don’t make it personal
Character assassination is a cheap and lazy technique. It’s fitting for political opponents in an election, but not conflicting spouses. Keep the discussion focused on what’s bothering you. Tearing down your spouse in the middle of an argument is a distraction from talking about the real problem. Not to mention, it hurts your partner’s feelings which should never be the goal of a conflict.
7) Know when to bow out
A well-timed exit can work wonders. Typically, you want to exit long before you’re filled with indignation. You run a high risk of saying something you don’t mean or will regret. The timing is difficult to master; how do you know when to stop? It’s tough, but sometimes your partner will send you clues. If your spouse is saying things like “I feel attacked,” then it’s probably time you back down and cool off. You also don’t want to harp on the same talking points and stall progress. If you aren’t making progress, just stop, and try reconvening when you’re both calm.