Disagreements are natural and generally inevitable in any human relationship between two people who spend as much time together as a romantic couple (let’s not even start quarantining your SO).
You can not Not fight occasionally. But fighting with your partner is an art and a science. There are right and wrong ways to get around disagreements. Done wrong, they turn into fights in which everyone says hurtful things that they don’t mean and Add Complaints about the relationship.
Done right, a disagreement is an opportunity to get to know your partner better, build trust between the two of you, and build a deeper and closer relationship. Here̵
The relationship battle club’s first rule is to only talk about the important things. You might be annoyed that your partner never rinsed the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. But do you really want to focus your disagreement energy there? Save it for the big stuff. Arguing about the little things can lead to … arguments a amount.
There is such a thing as the “Gottman Relationship,” which relationship psychologist Dr. John Gottman was created. It examines the comparative number of positive and negative interactions a couple has over the course of a day, week, month, or life. It was designed to be an accurate predictor of whether a relationship will last.
If you have at least five positive interactions for each negative, you are in good shape. Less than that, and there is likely to be trouble. It’s hard to keep this ratio solid when you bring up every little thing.
We all met The Person at a party – the person who doesn’t seem to care what you have to say but just pauses in their own monologue long enough to allow you to speak. The same behavior can quickly turn a relationship argument into a full blown fight.
Another warning sign is hearing your partner’s statements with an emphasis on how to proceed defeat their arguments instead of listening to find a mutual solution. It’s a bit like the one relative you have on Facebook who wants to “debate” but really just want to rip off your ideas. It’s not helpful.
One way to keep yourself on track and show your partner that you are really listening is to use a technique called “reflective listening”. When you are done, start your sentence with “Let me see if I understand you correctly …”. Then briefly describe the core concept that you were just trying to communicate.
Not “please” and “thank you” – although these are also surprisingly helpful when you are talking to your partner about anything. With this in mind, we’re talking about a handful of powerful phrases that can keep the conversation on topic and keep the dangerously strong emotions on the sidelines.
One of the most important is the statement “You / I”. For example, “If you call me by my nickname in public, I feel embarrassed and humiliated.” These statements clearly identify the problem and raise it in the light of the interaction between the two of you.
If you start a sentence with “I feel…” or “I feel”, your partner will tell you what you need without using language to hurt and blame them. It takes responsibility for your emotions and puts them on the table so you can focus on the problem together.
Other important magic words are:
- “Let’s talk about a solution.”
- “I’m feeling defensive right now.”
- “We were both wrong.”
- And of course the ultimate magic words: “I’m sorry.”
You probably did that and had it done to you. It’s very common and sometimes easy to do by mistake. For example, your partner mentions how much he doesn’t like you texting your ex and you mention the time he was drinking coffee her Ex when they were in town for a conference.
Your feelings towards your partner and their ex are valid and worth exploring, but not during the conversation about them she and your ex. As you bring it up, the water becomes cloudy and it becomes more difficult to find a solution to the initial situation.
If you’re tempted to mention these things, you may be working from your monkey brain. (More on that in a minute.)
Despite our best intentions, sometimes a disagreement gets out of hand. You are discussing emotionally charged issues with someone you care about, possibly about things that could affect the rest of your life. Disagreements sometimes lead to a fight, and fights almost never help a relationship.
If you hit a dead end where productive conversations are unlikely or if you’re too angry to engage rationally, it’s time to take a break. You will do no good if you continue the argument and you might say things that will cause new problems of your own.
Make up a safe conversation word that each member of the discussion can “tap” until things get less hot.
This doesn’t rush out of the conversation in anger or stomp down the stairs to sleep on the couch. It’s not a difficult discussion either because you don’t want it. This is a temporary “tap out” so that you can breathe, celebrate the better parts of your relationship, and maybe even get advice from another person before getting back on the subject.
“Monkey brain” is the primitive, animal part of your psyche. The one who must be right, who must win, who must attack and destroy his opponents. It was useful to our ancestors and can help you in real fight / flight situations … but it’s terrible for relationships.
Your monkey brain is the one pushing you to say, “Well, what about this time when she… “It’s the part of you that is tempted to name or belittle partner names. It is the impulse to win an argument because admitting that you are wrong would make you weak.
Entering a monkey brain headspace is natural when you are feeling attacked or scared. Both of these can often happen when your partner asks you for changes. But you’re the boss of it. When you feel its influence, first try to push the impulses back down and continue with a listening, loving conversation.
When you feel like verbally and emotionally shitting your partner is inevitable, use this “pause button” to get things back under control.
Not all of these habits are self-evident to most people, but there was also a time when it was not natural to stand up straight and tie your shoes. Exercise is key – as is patience, awareness, and the desire for a positive outcome. Fighting may be part of your relationship, but love can always win.
Jason Brick is a freelance writer and journalist who came to this career after over a decade in the health and wellness industry. When he’s not writing, he cooks, practices martial arts and spoils his wife and two good sons. He lives in Oregon.