We’re going to look at three types, or rather sizes, of arguments couples have and how to handle them without putting your peace or relationship at risk. For two of them, Prince Ea’s hack to end arguments will work well. For the third, I share another approach.
1. Small arguments
As you grow into your relationship, you want to have small arguments less and less. For common irksome behavior like his failure to put down the toilet seat (ever!), it’s healthier to look for a long-term solution like having separate bathrooms. Can’t afford a separate bathroom or whatever solution would completely solve the problem? Consider a penalty/reward system. In the case of the toilet seat habit, “fine” him $5 every time he leaves the seat up and “reward” him $5 every time he leaves the seat down. Creatively come up with compromises and treat issues like these as little blips/quirks in the person to forgive, negotiate and make peace with, somehow. Some things are too annoying and petty to keep at.
2. The medium-sized argument
Arguments about money or sharing chores are common in relationships because they go to the core of who we are and what we need. Let’s look at both of them and the sub-text (hidden message) that’s usually behind each:
- A partner who is concerned about money is usually concerned about security. If you didn’t grow up with financial uncertainty or your identity isn’t tied to money, you may not understand why this is an issue for your partner. It’s only when you consider your partner’s life, background, his/her identity, etc., that you might understand what makes financial security important to them.
- Fights about sharing chores are often about fairness. Look at other ways you may not be playing fair, because it’s never only with the dishes that you’re being unfair. The dishes is just an opportunity for your partner to voice something that’s been eating at them.
Make the money fight about what it really is, security and make the dishes fight about what it really is, fairness. When you deal with the emotions, the other person will feel heard and you can work out the conflict sooner.
The 30-second Hack
For both the small and medium-sized arguments, Prince Ea’s tip should work. His 30-second hack to end arguments is a great technique to help you resolve common couples conflict (mid-sized) arguments with emotional intelligence. It’s such a powerful way to reconnect and show that you value the other person and “see” them.
3. The really serious, definitely-big argument
Here’s where that technique will NEVER work and if you’re trying it here, I’m fairly certain you’re faking it. Serious arguments having to do with issues like disrespect, dishonesty and lack of support, will need attention and work to resolve them.
When you’re fighting about these issues, resist the urge to inflict pain. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that payback will make you whole, because it won’t. You risk making things worse because our actions and words when we’re enraged, can cause permanent damage. If your partner is in the habit of inflicting pain, it’s usually not a good sign for the relationship.
Instead of throwing verbal daggers or dragging out these arguments, take this approach to possibly fix the problem:
- Pause. Table the argument the minute you sense the steam coming out your ears.
- Get clear. Go to another room to clear your head for at least 10 minutes but NEVER walk out of the home. If going for a run or workout will help to clear your head, let your partner know that’s your plan. Don’t just storm out and leave them guessing.
- Get clear about what you’re feeling. Start by identifying your dominant feeling be it frustration, fear, anger, or something else. And identify your partner’s behavior that is causing you to feel the way you do: maybe you think your partner is lying, not listening, or doing whatabouts. Consider writing it down.
- Communicate the problem using”I” statements that clearly and succinctly state how you feel and let your partner know what’s at stake.
- Work on the problem. Agree to meet again and again and each time, be on the lookout for progress.
In the case of the definitely-big argument, you’re not trying to reach a resolution with one conversation. Your goal is to understand YOUR emotions and what’s behind it. If it’s easier, safer, or a clearer way for you to express yourself, you may want to write down how you feel. Try to express your feelings, without exaggerations, in a text or with a handwritten note.
A sample note using “I” statements:
“Whenever we discuss your long work hours, I don’t feel heard. You don’t acknowledge that my feeling lonely in our relationship is serious, which makes me think you don’t care. When I tell you I think it’s reasonable for you to come home by 6pm one night a week, you rationalize that you are working long hours working for “us.” That’s making a choice for me and ignoring my preference and need. I fear that you don’t get what’s at stake and don’t care about what I want. I want one night a week with you more than I want a 6-figure lifestyle and I worry that if you continue to not make time for us, we’re going to grow apart.”
By clarifying and communicating the problem, you leave the next move up to your partner. Sometimes, outside support from a minister or couples therapist may be more helpful than trying to work out big arguments amongst yourself. Whatever route you take, you want to see real change and progress happening.
So to summarize how to handle the three types and sizes of arguments:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff; find creative solutions to them. The 30-second hack can help, and eventually, it shouldn’t even be necessary because you want to move beyond petty stuff.
- Arguments about common couples conflicts and those about needs not met, will clear up faster when you approach them with emotional intelligence—seeing the other person’s side.
- Don’t drag out big fights because they can never be resolved in one sitting. Instead: Pause. Get clear. Communicate the problem. Arrange to meet at another time with solutions. Get outside help if your “solutions” aren’t working.
Christine is a lifestyle coach living in Los Angeles. She believes the way we live affects everything we do, especially our motivation.