It is a fact to be taken for granted that couples argue and conflict will be a feature in their relationship. Conflict in itself is not bad and in fact it can improve a relationship if the couple concerned can learn from it. Arguing constructively is the ideal method to use conflict to better a relationship. However, most couples will spend a lot of energy either avoiding conflict and feeling resentful or escalating it to a point of rage, when nothing positive can be found and couples engage in tit-for-tat, point scoring and defensive behaviour trying to prove who is right and who is wrong. Many couples where this is prevalent will find it difficult to stay together unless they can find a way to change. Below, I look at constructive arguing.
- Create a set of rules that govern your conflict, especially if you are an explosive couple. These rules will govern how, when, what and if.
- Being constructive about arguing also means that timing has to be considered. Many arguments escalate on the spur of the moment when assumptions are made and misunderstandings are possible. I often ask my clients to announce a timed separation if things start to get very heated. It is amazing how a misunderstanding looks twenty minutes down the line. Furthermore, don’t engage with a partner provoking you to escalate.
- Many misunderstandings can be cleared up with clarifying questions asking for more information and understanding on what was said. My opinion is that most conflicts can be resolved this way.
- Always keep in mind the bigger picture of the relationship. If you really want to stay in the relationship, ask yourself if what you are about to say or do is going to be helpful or hurtful to the relationship as a whole. Try to think in a solution-focussed manner. If defensiveness can be put to one side, couples can work together to find solutions.
- Never raise your voice. This can be extremely intimidating and signifies a loss of control. If you cannot communicate without this, take a break and come back when collected. One tip is to write what you are feeling rather than verbalising or whisper your points to your partner.
- Never doubt the relationship or bring past relationships or experiences into the argument to strengthen it. Try to focus on the point at hand.
- Learn the difference between anger and rage. Anger can be expressed in a functional way and without raising voices. Rage is out of control behaviour that will solve nothing.
- Don’t hold things in or avoid conflict. This is called stockpiling and the issues will eventually come out. When they do, it is more likely to be explosive because issues pile up. Learn to express what you are feeling and be emotionally honest.
- NEVER be abusive physically or in any other way. This may be taken for granted by most but when rage gets out of hand, it has no end. People who rage lose the ability to limit their behaviour, they become reactive and out of control. These can lead to abuse. Some will also use physical presence to intimidate and “win” the argument. Never stay in a relationship with an abusive partner.
- Understand the reassurance that physical touch can bring. Many couples will hold hands or hug each other even at their angriest. At the very least, a hug is relevant when issues have been resolved. Equally, sense your bodily reactions during conflict. These are reliable indicators to how you are feeling and possible action.
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