7 Tips for Healthy Arguing
“It’s amazing! We never argue! Our relationship is so easy!” Raise your hand if you’ve met this couple before. You can also raise your hand if you’ve always thought that couple somehow managed to land the perfect relationship – the elusive relationship that we all strive for – the easy, no-bumps-in-the-road, we-never-argue-so-it-must-be-perfect, partnership. We will raise our hands right along with you. BUT, what if we told you we’ve learned a secret, and we’re about to share that secret with you? What if we told you that arguing, specifically healthy arguing, is part and parcel of a thriving relationship? Well, it’s true.
So many of us have been taught that arguing is wrong; that if we argue with our partner, it’s a sign that maybe we’re not right for each other. Really though, arguing is a normal byproduct of two people from different backgrounds, with different wants and wishes, goals and dreams, adjusting to this now-shared life, who are bound to disagree on certain things. That’s right – an argument with a partner is normal, and healthy, and can actually be a sign of a solid relationship.
Of course, there are healthy arguments, and there are unhealthy arguments. A healthy argument is one where both partners communicate their desires and boundaries without seeking to bring down the other person. This seems a little abstract, but lucky for us, there are some concrete steps we can take to steer a disagreement toward common ground in a healthy way. Here are 7 tips to help you steer your next argument toward healthy growth as a couple.
1. Take turns speaking
A healthy argument can only happen if both people have a chance to say what they need to say. If you’re the one who tends to have more to say, try allowing more time for your partner to speak. If you tend to be on the quiet side, use the opportunity to practice communicating what you want, think, and feel.
2. Respect the volume
Some couples get a little louder than others when arguing, while some couples keep the volume to a minimum. There’s no “right” volume, except the one that you and your partner are both comfortable with. Often, we can determine if we’re getting too loud by paying attention to non-verbal cues. Does your partner flinch when you’re communicating in the heat of the moment? Do they step backward and maybe cross their arms over their body?
These signs might be telling you that your partner feels threatened and a softer voice is warranted. Likewise, do you notice these signs in yourself when your partner is communicating? Pay attention to your response and let your partner know if you’d like them to lower their voice.
3. Use I statements
Using “I” statements let you express your experience without shaming, judging, or assuming. For example, “You always forget to call – you don’t care!” could be replaced with, “When you don’t call, it makes me feel like you don’t care.” The second statement addresses the issue, while also expressing how we feel, without putting down the other person. This allows much more space for working toward a middle ground without defenses going up.
4. Practice listening
During an argument, it’s totally normal to want the other person to know where you stand, and being understood in a relationship is important. During a healthy argument, importance is placed on listening at least as much as talking. We might not feel like listening when we’re upset, but to truly solve the issue in a healthy way, both sides are going to need to listen, and good listening is a skill that takes practice.
5. Keep your hands to yourself
This one goes without saying, but is perhaps the most important element of a healthy argument. A healthy argument will not lead to a physical altercation. If you and your partner find that your arguments tend to escalate into physical aggression, this could be a sign of something more serious than a heated disagreement. Every single person has the right to disagree without fear of physical harm and it’s on both partners to ensure the space is safe. Since we’re here, we will also mention that a healthy argument will also avoid intentional emotional and verbal harm as well.
6. Focus on the current situation
When we’re upset and in the midst of communicating our hurts, it can be tempting to bring up conflicts from the past. Similarly, if we’ve been holding in some resentment, we might be tempted to open the floodgates and share all of our grievances that have been building up. While there may be times that past hurts and unexpressed grievances are directly related to the issue at hand, a healthy argument will address the present issue. If there are unresolved issues unrelated to the topic we’re arguing about, it might be best to put those on a shelf until we’ve resolved the current problem. Don’t get us wrong, unresolved issues are important to address, but we don’t need to overload the situation at hand.
7. Take breaks when needed
Not every argument is neatly wrapped up in a timely manner. In fact, every once in a while, a disagreement will have more stamina than we do, and that’s ok! Whether you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, you’re too upset to talk, need some space to collect your thoughts, or have a different reason you just can’t shoulder the argument in the moment, a healthy argument will include space for breaks. Be sure to communicate to your partner that you need some space, and be ready to honor the same request if it comes from them. In these situations, we try to avoid giving “the cold shoulder,” and instead, ask for a break so you can come back to the discussion with your best self.
Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription for arguments, but the tips laid out here will get you and your partner generating some ideas about how you can argue in healthier ways. Working together to hear and understand each other, while maintaining respect and a mutual goal toward a solution will move the needle from toxic disagreement toward healthy arguing. Give it a try – you both are worth it.
If you and your partner could use a little help getting the hang of healthy arguing, a love coach might be able to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out – you don’t have to do this alone.