Oct 242013

Have you heard the saying that “If you don’t argue, then your relationship is in trouble”? I don’t remember where I heard this, but I assumed it to be true. Humans are opinionated by nature; if two or more can agree on everything, then one of them isn’t being honest.

With my ex, I remember thinking about this saying a lot. We never argued. Sure, we had disagreements like, “It’s your turn to do the dishes!” but those weren’t real arguments. They weren’t discussions that affected our relationship. We never had to work on our communication.

There was nothing different in those talks than if I had been talking with my sister/roommate/coworker.  I knew there was a problem, but I thought it was strictly related to sex… and arguments were about communication, so they weren’t related.

How wrong I was! Sex was a problem, but the greater problem was communication. I couldn’t be honest about what I needed and wanted from him. I couldn’t even be honest with myself. I was shut up inside.

I let everything go and if things started heading for an argument, I let it drop. “I don’t want to argue.” “I don’t have the energy to deal with this.” “It won’t help.” “It’ll just  make things worse, so why bother?” “I’ll deal with it later.”

I used so many excuses, but they just delayed the inevitable: admitting there was not just A problem, but MANY problems. It’s a lot easier to deal with problems as they come, rather than a whole bundled mess all at once.  Would you rather choke on a glass of water, or choke while swallowing an entire lake?

I’m just over two years into my current relationship. I’m by no means a seasoned expert, but having lived at two extremes of relationships, I’ve had my fair share of learning the hard way… and learning fast. Here are some of my life lessons on how to actually have an argument that is beneficial to your relationship.

  • Know what to argue about. You can’t take every opportunity where there is frustration or disagreement and make it into an argument. If you do, you’ll be fighting all the time. Pick your battles. Is it worth arguing about who forgot to put the leftovers away after dinner when the food is already spoiled? (I would say no, because it was both of you and you’re both probably upset about it.)
  • Is it worth arguing about who gets to pick the movie to watch? (Again, probably not). What if your partner does something that offends you? Bingo. Go for it.
  • Approach with caution. This is an area I have trouble with. If you start out super angry, defensive, or fly off the handle, you’ll probably end up escalating the volume of your argument pretty quickly and you’ll accomplish nothing. This is where things get so heated, you forget what the argument is about 10 minutes in.
  • It’s OK to walk away. If things are getting too heated or the discussion keeps derailing, it may be time to step away for a bit. If you’re like me, you’ll walk away and go seethe for a bit, but even this forced focused with yourself should help you think through the feelings.
  • Think through your feelings. If you’re acting on emotion alone, you’re not going to accomplish anything. Part of arguing is having some sort of back and forth discussion that is about the facts. Another part includes the feelings.
  • It’s OK and I would encourage statements that include phrases such as: “When X happens I feel…” or “I feel like you think I’m stupid when you say X” or “It hurts me when X is said/done.” But all of your statements can’t be “I feel.” Some need to be WHY it makes you feel that way and HOW you need whatever the problem is to be addressed.
  • “Instead of saying X to me, it wouldn’t hurt if you said Y.” “Please don’t say X anymore, it makes me feel like you don’t respect me. I’d rather you say Y.”
  • Offer solutions. No matter which side of the argument you are on, you should think of solutions. It can be as simple as “What would you like me to do instead?” and waiting for your partner to help you find the right alternative. The key to finding the solution is listening to what your partner would like to see or hear and making sure that works for both of you.
  • It’s OK to sleep on it. One thing I always heard growing up was “Don’t go to bed angry.” Actually, I disagree with this statement. Sometimes you need the time to take a long break. Sometimes arguments pop up at night when you both work early; if you work opposite schedules, someone may need to go to sleep to continue life as normal when the argument ends.
  • Sleeping while angry isn’t the best sleep, but it may be better for both of you than getting no sleep since you’re at an impasse.
  • Don’t leave the building or bedroom. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. Sometimes in anger it can seem so easy to just leave. Leave the house for a few hours. Sleep in another room to avoid touching or interacting at night. Nope. Arguing is part of the relationship; one argument is not worth telling your partner “You don’t deserve my presence because I’m angry” with your actions.
  • Don’t do it. It’s disrespectful to your partner and your relationship. It’s also a very petty way to withhold communication. Part of being in an adult relationship is facing your problems, not running from them.
  • Don’t move out of your bedroom or leave the house in anger just to punish your partner with the removal of your presence. You may need to go cool off in separate rooms, but even if you’re delaying the conclusion of the argument until morning, you need to share the bed. You are still a couple, after all.
  • Even if your partner won’t, you should. If your partner is breaking all of these rules, that doesn’t give you the right to go ahead and do it yourself.
  • The goal is resolution, not winning. Repeat 10x each argument and then act like it.
  • Apologize. I don’t care what your argument is about – apologize. Making an apology is a humbling experience and its a signal to your partner that you’re serious about their feelings and the resolution you both agreed on.
  • A simple “I’m sorry I made you feel that way” can be enough… but make sure you do it right. “I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better.” “I’m sorry, I love you and you deserve better. I’ll work on this.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it…I said that in anger but it wasn’t right.”
  • If you need to, ask for forgiveness. For some people, asking for forgiveness is important. If your partner needs to hear this, let them hear it. If they ask you for forgiveness, don’t ever deny that.
  • Move on. Once an argument is done, its done. There shouldn’t be any digging up the past or revisiting “But you said X on  X date” happening. When an argument has a resolution and apology, it’s done. The resolution is the grave and the apology is the grave marker. It’s not coming back to life — so let it go.

I never thought I would be happy that I argue with my partner. We fight fairly regularly. We’re both stubborn. I have such high confidence arrogance that I know I’m always right (I’m not!).

Sometimes emotions take over and it becomes about proving a point instead of working on that resolution together. The important matter is, we work through this together.  As our relationship has built, we have become more aware of these traits.

Our arguments don’t last as long and we don’t get as mad as we once did with each other. Each argument is a stepping stone in our relationship. They don’t drive us apart, but together.

Arguing and working through a disagreement or hurt feelings makes us stronger as a couple. We’re not perfect, but following these rules has made arguing much easier for us.


  2 Responses to “How to argue with your partner”

  1. I’ve heard that you should never argue standing up. As things escalate, it’s easy to become aggressive and it will just get worse. Sit down and have your argument.

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