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.
1. Little arguments
As you grow into your relationship, you want to have little fights less and less. For common problems like putting down the toilet seat, it’s healthier to look for a long-term solution. Having separate bathrooms is a great idea. Can’t afford a separate bathroom? Consider a penalty/reward system—$5 every time he leaves the seat up and $5 every time he leaves the seat down. Seek compromises, have fun with these, and treat them as little blips/quirks in the person to forgive, negotiate and make peace with somehow. Remember, you’re adults. 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. Couples need to pay attention to the emotions behind the issues they’re arguing about. A partner who is concerned about money is usually concerned about security. Consider what in your partner’s life, background, his/her identity, etc., would make financial security important to them. Fights about sharing chores are often about fairness. Deal with the emotions by seeing it from the other person’s point of view and need. When you deal with the emotions, the other person feels heard. If you don’t deal and just agree to solutions but never follow through, you’ll create bigger problems. The other person will begin to think, “I can’t rely on you.” Relationships don’t survive repeated failed expectations.
3. The serious (big) fight
There are those issues that rise above the level of everyday arguments. Whenever there is disrespect, dishonesty, lack of support and anything important that could strain your relationship, hugging it away won’t do.
Words will be said and tempers will flair because these are inflicting emotional wounds. There comes a point in these arguments though when it’s unhelpful to prolong the fight. Typically, after 30 minutes if you’re not approaching acknowledgment and resolution, you’re getting nowhere and should table it. This is when you need to communicate.
Follow these steps to start the dialog, and hopefully, agree to work on your problems:
- Table it.
- Go to another room and 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 and you value the relationship, ask your partner if stepping out will be ok with them.
- Get clear about what’s going on. Write down your dominant feeling (be it frustration, fear, anger, or something else.). Identify the behavior that is causing you to feel that way: maybe you think your partner is lying, not listening, or doing whatabouts.
- Use “I” statements to clearly and succinctly put into words how you feel, then
- Sit down with your partner and let him/her know what’s at stake.
You’re not trying to reach a resolution here. Your goal is to end the fight by acknowledging what it is about and agreeing to continue talking. If it’s easier, safer or a clearer way for you to express yourself, write down how you feel. Express your feelings without exaggeration in a text or handwritten note:
“Whenever we discuss your long work hours, I don’t feel heard. I don’t get your acknowledgment of my feelings and commitment to change. I’m hoping you agree to one early night a week but instead, you insist that working is for “us.” The way you respond makes me fear you don’t get it. I worry that if you continues to not make time for us, we’re going to grow apart.”
Serious problems like these and the emotions they raise can’t be ignored or swept under rugs. They need to be discussed but arguing isn’t the right approach. The emotionally intelligent approach is where you communicate your feelings in ways that the other person is more likely to “hear.” It’s also the more effective way to find solutions.
By clarifying and communicating the problem, you leave the next move up to your partner. Outside support (a minister, pro) may be helpful but real change must happen for your relationship to survive.
The 30-second Hack
Prince Ea’s 30-second hack to end arguments is a great technique to bring yourself back from common everyday (mid-sized) arguments. It is such a powerful way to reconnect and show that you value the other person and “see” them. Tools like these are great to have in our communication repertoire. Show your partner the video and use the technique ASAP.
So to summarize how to handle the three types and sizes of arguments
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Find creative solutions to them.
- Maintain your connection when you argue about everyday stuff (tools like the 30-second hack helps).
- Don’t drag out big fights. Pause. Get clear. Communicate the problem and think about meeting another time with solutions. Get help if your “solutions” aren’t working.