By Margot Brown
The key to changing the way you argue is realizing that we will continue to have arguments in how we relate to our intimate partners.
It would be more alarming if you never argued. At the same time, habitual, regular, more days than not of arguments is not healthy either.
Why? If it becomes the primary forum for connection between the two of you, then it is negative and possibly addictive. Your physical body is flooded with a stress hormone called cortisol. Too much is NOT a good thing!
Psychologically, you become overwhelmed and anxiously agitated, and that adds more stressors to the actual event of arguing. Spiritually, it also attracts more of the same negativity.
So, no matter how you slice it… arguments will happen. The key is communication, so you’re not having the same ole’ argument in the same ole’ way like a recording that keeps playing over and over.
Oftentimes, couples will say “I’m so bored. We always have the same argument over and over.”
Or they say: “I know exactly what the next sentence is, and I can almost time it as to when he will raise his voice… it’s when I get that knot in my stomach. When that happens it’s out of control, and there’s no turning back.”
Imagine being bored while you’re yelling and following the same old script with neither of you listening to each other because you are both yelling over each other, or one of you is the yeller, and the other is tuned out, rolling their eyes, and thinking “Here we go again.”
Perhaps it is time for a positive change in how you communicate your needs with each other. You both need to learn how to fight in a relationship.
The goal is that once you own your role in how the two of you argues, it changes everything like a domino effect! Once you decide to do it differently, then most certainly you will have a different outcome!
One goal might be to have a productive argument transformed into an animated discussion.
It sounds different, it looks different, and it feels different! So, instead of waiting for your partner to change, start with yourself, and you decide to do it differently because you are ready to do it differently.
Here’s how to fight in relationships…that works:
1. Stop blaming each other about the past. Stay in the NOW!
What does that mean? I had one couple and he turned to his wife sitting next to him on the couch and he said: “If I’ve told you once, I‘ve told you 19,000 times… You this and you that!”
I stopped him right there and said that first of all it did not matter what he said or did not say 19,000 times before… what matters is what he was thinking and feeling in this moment right now on my office couch.
I stated to both of them that the real essence of what was happening between them right now was what each of them bring into this moment… right now. He immediately got it and changed the way he spoke to her.
2. Express your own needs/wants clearly — but without blame.
So, instead of referring to the past and blaming her, the husband started to describe how frustrated he was right at that moment. He said: “I feel frustrated and like I don’t exist. It’s like you don’t hear me. I feel like I am alone in this marriage.”
Please notice that it’s important to not use the pronoun “YOU”. “You” is a very blaming pronoun. Start with the pronoun “I”:
- “I think…”
- “I feel…”
- “I want…”
- “I hope…”
So once he stopped saying “YOU this and YOU that!”, it immediately shifted the energy between them. He began describing his innermost experience of himself while he was talking to his wife.
That is intimacy — thoughts and feelings. Basically, he was describing his innermost experience of how it was to be him in this marriage without blaming her.
3. Pay attention.
Monitor yourself, and examine your own thoughts and feelings during the information exchange.
4. Communicate your thoughts and feelings in a direct but non-threatening way to your partner.
This was an opportunity for his wife, to resonate how she was experiencing him while he was speaking about his thoughts and feelings. It was also an opportunity, for her to reflect back to him her experience of him and then communicate her own thoughts.
She said: “I never knew you felt that way.” She continued: “What you just described is exactly how I feel too!” and then “I feel so disconnected from you and then I feel alone and then I get overwhelmed by it all.”
This exchange is very powerful and very real. It is a huge connection point between partners!
This connection bridge between each other at various points in the conversation can multiply to other conversations, so that more often, partners/spouses are creating more and more intimate moments throughout the day, evening or week.
At first, it might seem like any other new behavior, different, but the more you are mindful and use it, the more you desensitize yourself to any awkwardness. After a while, it becomes second nature and if you want to call it a habit.
It becomes a good habit that you both use regularly.
5. If you feel tense, agree to take a 20 minute BREAK (or longer if needed) and also agree to come back to finish the conversation.
Nothing worse, then saying: “Let’s continue this later” with no defined appointment to come back and complete the process. So remember, everything is conscious and verbal!
For example, the couple is talking, they don’t follow the steps exactly, or it was going well, but then the heat popped back up and they felt like it was going back to the same old dance/argument.
So, one partner says: “I’m starting to get that stomach ache again.” And she knows that’s his clue for, “You’ve got that look in your eye and I think we are getting ready to argue again.” So, as soon as he says his stomach aches, she realizes and backs off.
“Do you want to take a break? How long of a break? Do you want me to come check in with you at the end of the break? Or, will you come get me after 20 minutes or so? OK?”
So, all of that needs to be communicated. If you cannot do that at the moment of needing the break, I would suggest that you agree to that prior to having your discussion.
So both partners know, what the break looks like in terms of where, when, how long and what to do when the break is over?
One couple I spoke to told me, that he was over it in 25 minutes in the back bedroom. She, however, described that she had to sit at the kitchen table and have a cup of tea and it took her about 2 hours.
So, it was agreed that 2 hours was acceptable by them both and that when she was ready she would get up, go find him and let him know she was ready to continue the discussion.
This avoided him having to keep coming back and double checking with her, “Are you ready to talk now? Are you ready to talk now?”As you can see, these are simple, straightforward common sense tips.
6. Communicate acknowledgment, not necessarily agreement, by using “check-in’s” with each other.
This is a big deal. Remember that you don’t have to agree with each other. However, most importantly, it is essential that you acknowledge to your partner what you heard him/her say, and then “check-in” with your partner to make certain you heard it right.
This technique validates your partner! They immediately feel connected to you because they felt that you listened to them!
I always get a smile from my couples when they acknowledge each other. It feels great!
Again, the example may sound hokey, but it totally works: “So, what I heard you say was that if I picked up the laundry basket filled with clean clothes on my way up the stairs…you would really like that. Is that what you said?” Then, smile.
“So, what you’re saying is that if every week we looked together at the refrigerator and made out the schedule together on Sunday evening, you would feel better about the schedule. Is that right?”
7. Finish the discussion successfully.
This is without misinterpreting, making false assumptions, speaking with raised voices, and having bull blown argument/fights that cycle to nowhere except more pain.
Any version of reflecting back as to what the gist of what you heard and then double checking with your partner to make certain you got it all.
Your partner might say, “Well, partially right, and I also mentioned that if you could let me know when your travel dates are as we are doing the schedule, it would help me out a lot.”
This dialogue seems shallow, or peripheral to more important conversations. However, my take on it is that the more you can talk about schedules, and chores and dinner with a successful conclusion, then the more you are prepared to have those more challenging discussions.
8. If you get upset about something your partner says or does, the next step is to implement the timeline of 72 hours.
So, if it really bothers you, and you can’t seem to let it go, then you have a choice.
You can say, “You know Saturday night when you told me….? Well, that hurt me and I got upset and now the more I think about it I am angry.”
What you don’t want to do, is to bring up something from the past (2 weeks ago, 2 months ago, or 22 years ago)! This is your BIG CHANCE!
You can bring it up within a 72-hour time frame because it is important enough to you to bring it up — here and now. Or, you have to let it go. So, if you wait and 72 hours has passed, you need to let it float away.
Stop stewing in it, stop obsessing over it. Let it go. Pick and choose your battles wisely as they say.
9. Finally, understand that one of the reasons we have arguments is about past hurts and pain.
However, once you start using the 72-Hour Rule, you will be able to smooth out the wrinkles in the present and be in a state of readiness to sit down and have a conversation (non-blaming, even emotions) between the two of you about that past hurt.
You might be saying to yourself, “WHAT?”
I thought you said it was about HERE AND NOW! It is. However, when you decide to have that talk about that painful, awkward event from the past, you use the here and now concept of the 72-Hour Rule to talk about the PAST in the PRESENT tense.
How does it feel to talk about that painful event now?
What does it feel like to hear your partner’s experience and thoughts about that event now? For example:
This is really hard for me to describe, I can’t believe I am saying this out loud, but if you really want to know what I think, when that night happened and you said that to me and we broke up for a couple of months before we got back together (and never really discussed that night again without having huge arguments).
I felt a searing pain directly in my heart that night. I have never felt such pain.
Right now talking about it with you is scary, because I don’t want to argue with you about it again, I just want to let you know that the pain didn’t leave, ever. Right now, I feel a combination of good because I am talking and you are really listening to me.
You own what you said to me that night, and I own my part, as to how I treated you after you said it. I am so sorry for how I behaved. I never apologized to you, but I am now. I am sorry and I love you very much.
I don’t know what you are going to say next, but I am glad that I got to tell you that I am sorry for my actions that night three years ago.”
Of course, the dialogue continues with her partner doing the same reciprocated back and forth discussion without blame.
Once couples learn the technique of staying in the present while talking about the past, then they can talk about anything with a successful outcome!
Staying grounded in the present means being able to talk about the past hurt or unresolved problem, but describe what you think and feel right now.