Most couples have disagreements that occasionally escalate into arguments. This escalation happens pretty frequently for some couples, which can put a strain on the relationship and make both parties question whether or not their life together is worth the struggle. If both of you are willing to work on the relationship, it’s likely salvageable, but both of you have to put in the effort. In addition to seeking counseling—either as a couple or on your own if your partner doesn’t agree to go along—you can start practicing healthier argument strategies immediately.
Don’t Get Defensive
While you shouldn’t sit back quietly and allow your partner to insult and demean you over the course of your relationship, getting defensive might blow the argument out of proportion. Not arguing back doesn’t mean you have to acknowledge the legitimacy of your partner’s claims. You simply need to take a deep breath and realize that this situation is abnormal and your partner is likely saying things he’ll regret. Don’t rise to the bait. Instead, focus on breathing and simply say, “You’re saying things that are hurtful and that I think you may regret. I’ll discuss this with you in a little while, after we’ve both had a chance to cool down.” If you find this situation to be the norm in your relationship, you may be dealing with an abusive partner and average argument coping strategies may not be effective; speak with a counselor immediately to be sure.
While storming out in a huff isn’t ideal, there’s nothing wrong with agreeing to step away from the argument. Putting the argument on hold until you’ve both calmed down will save you and your partner from saying hurtful things that could damage the relationship for years to come. Explain to your loved one that you need to get your temper under control, or that she needs to be given some time to let the worst of her anger pass so you can both discuss the disagreement calmly and rationally. Set a time and place to meet, then take some time to decompress alone by going for a walk, reading a book, browsing the Internet, or going to a cafe. If you have kids and your temper is under control, take them for a stroll, too. If possible, take them to the home of a friend or family member so they don’t have to see their parents fighting.
Discuss it Publicly
Arrange the meeting after tempers cool down at a cafe, public park, or shopping center. While a public discussion is in no way a guarantee that emotions won’t get out of control, the public setting and stranger witnesses do usually act as a buffer that cool temperatures down. Discuss the disagreement in a place where you’re both less likely to raise voices and hurl insults.
Use “I Feel” Statements
Rather than accusing your partner with “you always” or “you never” statements, be less confrontational by focusing on how his actions you make you feel. “When you raise your voice at me, I feel uncomfortable around you.” “When we discuss my parents, I feel hurt to hear them insulted.” Think about how you feel when someone focuses on what you’ve “done wrong,” even if they don’t mean it that way. Defensive and angry reactions are likely. However, if someone you love tells you how hurt they are, you’re more likely to stop and reflect.
Listen as Much as You Speak
Neither one of you should dominate the conversation. Take turns speaking those “I feel” statements. Time each other, if necessary, until you get used to sharing the floor. Don’t defend yourself during your partner’s turn to speak. Let her finish before you respond and ask that she do the same for you.
Only in rare cases is one side of an argument completely at fault and the other entirely blameless. Apologize for your part in the disagreement even if your actions, such as making your partner feel ignored, were not intentional. Vow to do better.
Healthier argument strategies lead to fewer hurt feelings and better reconciliation. Of course, if you agree to communicate openly and frequently on issues that affect you both, you’re less likely to have arguments to begin with because the most important things in your relationship will be clear from the get-go. While it’s true that some couples just aren’t compatible, putting forth these efforts and strategies will give you the best chance at making it last—or at least going your separate ways amicably.