6 Tips for Healthier (and Less Hurtful) Relationship Arguments
Let's face it; you're going to have arguments in your relationship. Maybe they snore; maybe you didn't think they should blow their paycheck on video games. Or maybe it's deeper. When these things inevitably come to a head, you may as well do your best to make it more productive and less hurtful, says Stacey Greene, a marriage and relationship coach with Growing Vital Health. And yes, arguing can sometimes even help a relationship if it's done well; A study published in The Journal of Marriage and the Family followed 79 married couples over 14 years found that those who had relationship arguments often and in a peaceful manner were more likely to stay together.
Try these rules and exercises from experts to communicate better while arguing, subdue intense emotions, and prevent blow-ups in the first place.
Close the gap.
Greene often asks couples to sit across from each other at a small table (a TV tray table, for example) when they argue. "When discussing something deep that you know will turn quickly into a heated argument, sit at this tiny table where your knees are touching, your arms are banging into each other, and where eye contact is evident," says Greene. It's much harder to get volatile when sitting this close and staring into the eyes of your partner. (Related: The Science Behind Make-Up Sex)
Next, use words that show your feelings rather than being blameful. For example, instead of yelling at your partner for always coming home late without texting, explain that when they do this, you feel neglected because the dinner was waiting and you prefer eating with them, says Greene.
Talk for 20 minutes per day.
This is especially important for couples with children (but even for those without), is something that can often go overlooked when there's a busy time at work, and can go a long way in preventing relationship arguments in the first place. The Office for National Statistics finds that the average couple spends about 2 hours together per day, but 1/3 of that time is spent watching TV, 24 minutes is spent doing housework, and 30 minutes is spent eating. But if you and your partner aren't communicating, small things can contribute to resentment and anger in your relationship.
Save at least 20 minutes a day to check-in without interruptions and see how your partner is doing and feeling, says Stephanie Cruz, a relationship expert and author for DatingPilot.net, a website offering dating tips and reviews of dating sites. This is a way to calmly go over any issues before they become huge. If you seriously don't have the time, then try working side-by-side or even sitting next to each other while you do other things. A massive study by researchers at the University of Minnesota looked at 47,000 couples over a 7-year period and found that when people in good relationships are with their spouses, they're twice as happy as they are without them. (See: What Love Is Blind Can Teach You About Relationships)
When you assume something, you're usually wrong more times than you're right, says Amy Schoen, a dating and relationship expert and a professional life coach. This could be thanks to ghosts from past relationships, your current partner's past bad behavior, or even anecdotal evidence from other people's relationships, she says.
If something is troubling you, "make sure you ask your partner their thoughts," says Schoen. "Never assume that they feel or will behave in a certain way." If they're moody or distant, ask them why they're withdrawn. Communication without speculating is key. For example, if your partner is retreating alone into another room every night, you may assume they're avoiding you or don't want to spend time with you—instead, ask them how much alone time they crave, and have a talk about what you both need for self-care. (More here: 8 Common Communication Problems In Relationships)
Ask for what you need.
Instead of blaming and accusing, make a goal to reframe things in terms of your needs, says Tracy Ross, a licensed clinical social worker. So rather than saying, "I hate that you don't text back quickly," try simply telling them exactly what you want (perhaps to be more responsive when you text or call?). Instead of blaming your partner—which could start another relationship argument and make you come off as bossy or demanding, try telling them how much you love it when they text you. Ask how you can make this work better, as you worry that something has happened to them if you don't hear from them for a while. This gives them the opportunity to explain (maybe they're usually driving or perhaps their phone is on silent at work), and you both can understand the situation from the other's point of view. (Related: Things Monogamous People Can Learn from Open Relationships)
Practice softer emotions.
Humans are passionate, and when we're mad, we can get loud. "When you have high emotional energy, you make impulsive decisions," says Jacob Kountz, associate marriage and family therapist in Bakersfield, CA. If you've ever spouted something in the middle of an argument and immediately regretted it, you likely know what he means.
When you find yourself or your partner in an instance of high emotional energy, try to understand what else may be going on under these surface emotions. For example, when your partner is angry, check-in and see if they're sad or worried about something. Feelings of sadness and worry are usually at the bottom of the barrel of anger, and are considered 'softer emotions,' says Kountz. "These softer emotions can be easier to tame, communicate, and understand, as they can slow things down and are easier to listen to," he says. They will also likely help you get to the root of the problem, which can bring you closer to a solution.
Sure, it's easier said than done, especially if you're the one in the high-energy state. If that's the case, you may need to take a moment away from the relationship argument (go into another room). Take a few breaths. Try to meditate. Attempt to calm down and think about what you're feeling below the anger.
Take a time out.
You've probably heard that you shouldn't go to bed angry, but this isn't always the best advice, says Cruz. "When couples are arguing and they begin to feel extremely upset, it is best to take a time out, as their emotions are temporarily in control rather than their mind," says Cruz.
The "time out" should last until you've both calmed down and feel like you can address the issue without getting heated. Waiting until any extreme feelings settle down can help you both broach the subject calmly and productively. During the time out, you can meditate, exercise, listen to music or do whatever you need to do in order to relax. (Try these techniques for calming down fast.)