As a young girl, I watched my parents argue and sometimes get into physical altercations. After witnessing their hurt, I decided, That’s definitely not going to be me.
During my late teens and early twenties, I began seriously dating. But, still reeling from the arguments I witnessed as a kid, my propensity not to argue remained. So, when my partner would pick a fight, I tried to ignore it, but most times, that didn’t work.
He’d end up belittling me and breaking me down to the point of driving me to tears. So while I didn’t argue, unfortunately, my partner did.
Eventually, I realized I couldn’t avoid arguments, so if my partners wanted a fight, they got what they wanted. But, since I had no idea how to fight fair, I went straight for the jugular. It was all about using something they had previously told me in confidence and viciously throwing it back in their face.
I wasn’t experienced enough with relationships to figure out that instead of focusing on keeping the argument from happening in the first place, I should figure out a way to fight fair.
That made more sense because you can’t stop arguments in a relationship, no matter how hard you try. So your partner will inevitably do something that pisses you off.
Fast forward to decades later. I’m married with three children, and unsurprisingly, my spouse still ticks me off quite often. But thankfully, I’ve learned a few things along the way. So here are 16 tips on keeping calm (ish) even in an argument.
1. Take on the Issue, Not Each Other
Leave out the name-calling. Don’t bring down the other person to “win” the argument because you may say something that can break down the relationship further. Unfortunately, this requires some forethought because it’s too easy to say things you can’t take back.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of Conflict
Conflict allows you to grow as an individual and for the relationship to evolve. Of course, as you share your life with someone intimately, you will have disagreements. Conflict is standard and, in some cases, conflict is healthy, especially when there’s something meaningful at stake for one or both of you.
That said, willingly taking on conflict isn’t necessarily easy, but it allows you to be open and honest and learn from one another, strengthening the relationship.
3. Never Confuse the Topics With the Issue
You may keep arguing over different things, but you always end up on the same topic (money, kids, infidelity). When that happens, your argument is never about the current disagreement; it’s the underlining topics.
So while it may be the little things that start the disagreements (ex, leaving the toilet seat up again), that’s not the core of the argument.
Instead, they’re only the topics that pull you back to the main issue you never dealt with in the first place. The topics aren’t the problem. The issues are.
To deal with those issues, you must find out what they are. Then, when you figure it out, give them the necessary attention to let go of the hold it has on your relationship.
4. Stick With the Issue
Stop bringing up irrelevant details in the argument to prove your point. So often, it’s tempting to confirm how much you’re right by highlighting how much they’re wrong. Doing so is the fastest way to get off track and put you in a place where you forget your initial disagreement.
5. Don’t Withdraw but Don’t Chase Either
This is more than just taking time to chill and get your thoughts together.
Most people withdraw because they feel attacked, disinterested, or bored. They pull away in attempts to maintain control and autonomy.
If you use the silent treatment as your go-to response, it will cause damage to your relationship. If you feel attacked, find ways to discuss this without counterattacking.
If you’re disinterested or bored, do you think it’s with the relationship or the issue? What is it about either that has you wanting to withdraw?
If it’s your partner withdrawing, do you believe they feel attacked? You can change that by acknowledging your contribution to the problem.
For example, ‘I know I upset you when…’ or ‘I know I saying that hurt your feelings…’ This makes it easier for your partner to trust that you’re not condemning or criticizing them.
6. Stop Downplaying the Issue
Your partner may feel it’s an issue, but you don’t. For a problem to exist, it only takes one of you to believe it is, and even though you don’t need to agree, you should at least listen to what they say.
Note: People don’t simply stop feeling a certain way because you tell them to, so stop saying it’s not a big deal. If you plan to ignore the issue until it goes away, it won’t work. It will eventually come out during another argument, so it’s better to address it sooner rather than later.
For example, that fight about dinner being five minutes late isn’t really about dinner. There’s much more going on that has absolutely nothing to do with the timeframe of your food being served.
Most times, all it takes is acknowledgment and validation of the issue. For example, ‘I understand how important this is for you. I’ll figure out how to handle it.’
7. Search for the True Feelings Underneath the Bitterness
It can be challenging not to turn away when someone is pissed off at you, but understand that anger doesn’t exist on its own. It always has another emotion underneath. Most times, it’s hurt, jealousy, sadness, insecurity, or frustration.
When you notice the true emotion, you have a better chance to respond to the root cause. Don’t turn away or pretend you’re doing something else while your partner confides in you because you might miss something vital that indicates what’s happening. Remember, being seen by your partner can deepen a connection.
8. Be Open and Honest About Your Needs
Your partner can’t read your mind, so stop expecting them to. Conflicts in a relationship occur when one person expects the other to know exactly what’s wrong without being told. Doing so creates a relationship that’s more likely to end with negative communication and anger.
Research shows that people who assume their partner knows and understands what’s on their mind are more likely to feel neglected and anxious.
Instead of expecting, sit down and have a real conversation. Be open and discuss what you need from them. Then, encourage them to do the same for you.
9. Try Not to Yell
Your partner is not a three-year-old child, so stop shouting to get your point across. Sure, it can be frustrating, but when you yell, it only encourages your significant other to do the same. Besides, when the disagreement comes to a yelling point, no one is heard because no one is listening.
In this case, be the ‘bigger person’ and calm it all down. For example, say, ‘Okay, I get what you’re trying to say, but both of us yelling isn’t going to get our points across.’
Or suggest you take a break from the discussion but give a specific time to come back and address the issue.
Methods to Get Your Partner to Listen Without Shouting
Have you ever been in the midst of a conflict, and you want your partner to hear what you’re saying, but you’re both so worked up you can’t stop yelling? Unfortunately, those arguments are rarely solved because no one listens to the other person. Here are methods to get your partner to listen to you without shouting at the top of your lungs.
Speak Clearly and Then Pause.
When attempting to be heard, less is more. So don’t go on and on into too many details trying to make your point. Instead, say only what’s needed and then pause. This way, your partner can listen to and receive your words and possibly respond.
You Can Choose Soothing Language When Making Your Point
Even though you want them to listen, everything they say doesn’t always need to be so harsh. When we think about being direct and firm about our needs, we believe it often requires abrasiveness. This is not true.
Calming words help keep the conversation civil and peaceful. Additionally, your partner is much more willing to listen when they don’t feel like they’re being:
Don’t be Vague
Stop expecting your partner to read between the lines. Instead, be upfront and direct with your wants. When you speak, make your statements concise, clear, and focused on the matter.
For example, if your argument is about your partner leaving dirty dishes, stay on that specific topic and not on the fact that they’re “always messy around the house.”
Balance the Positive With the Negative
No one wants to hear everything they’re doing wrong, so when discussing, point out some of the positives of the situation. While you should remain focused on the topic at hand, you should also find some positives that you can refer to.
For example, using the dirty dishes situation above, when you complain about them leaving dirty dishes, remind them how much you appreciate the time they cooked dinner and cleaned up the kitchen. Try to end the conversation on a positive note.
Don’t Bring Up the Past
You’ve had disagreements in the past, but those were resolved (or at least have already been discussed.) There is no reason to trudge those old irritants into this current issue. Leave them in the past or for another discussion if they still need to be resolved. Instead, keep the talk focused on the current points.
10. Steer Clear of Blame
Stop using phrases like ‘you always’ and ‘you don’t’. These are generalizations that place the blame on your partner. And guess what comes next? Defensiveness. If you have any, it’s best to use specific examples. For instance, say, ‘From my experience, I’ve noticed…’
However, if your partner generalizes using negative phrases, ask for examples of what they’re referring to.
For instance, if your partner says you always come home late and never call. Ask for specific occasions when this has happened.
No one is ‘always’ or ‘never’ anything. But, unfortunately, using these words will only make you angry and defensive.
11. Be Curious
What’s the saying, The devil is in the details? This idiom means that a mysterious element is hidden in the details. In other words, something can seem simple, but the details are actually more complicated and likely to cause problems.
In this case, it’s the opposite. You want the details because generalizing hints at an impending full-blown attack.
This is how arguments typically escalate. But, unfortunately, when a disagreement ensues, while one person is speaking, the other is probably formulating a response rather than listening because they’re already on the defensive.
Instead, slow down the conversation and ask for details. Doing so indicates that you’re ready to be open and honest and want to sort the situation out.
12. Pay Attention
Previously, conversations were typically between two people. However, now talks include two people and one smartphone. When that notification dings, people are often distracted and check their messages during the discussion.
Unless it’s an emergency call from your kid, don’t look at your phone or anything else that will take you away from the other person. Pay attention! This vital act demonstrates that you care.
Just because you show up to dinner doesn’t mean you’re going to eat what’s on the plate. In other words, simply showing up doesn’t cut it. You need to be an active listener and engage in the conversation, or nothing gets resolved.
The argument will continue, but it may turn from the real issue to the fact that they don’t have your full attention. Not only have you not solved the first issue, but you’ve introduced another.
13. Accept that Nobody is Perfect
Since the beginning of time, no one has proven themselves to be the perfect human. Seriously. Nobody.
So, even though it may be challenging, be open to accepting criticism. Often, the feedback is difficult to stomach, but sometimes it’s how it’s delivered.
Listen to and hear the message. Always consider it.
Of course, you don’t have to believe or even accept criticism. However, at the very least, you should be receptive to it.
If you are the one with the words of wisdom, deliver them in a manner that can be heard and understood. Say things like, ‘I get why you’re upset, so I know you probably didn’t mean it to sound that way…’
14. Don’t Be Passive Aggressive
Whenever someone starts a discussion with ‘I’m not trying to be mean but,’ or ‘You may not like hearing this but…’ you know what’s coming up isn’t good.
These passive-aggressive phases in no way soften what’s about to come next, so don’t even bother. If someone says them to you, brace yourself for the next round of fighting because there’s no faster way to put you on high alert and make you defensive
Passive-aggressive behavior is when someone indirectly expresses negative feelings and emotions instead of being open and honest about them.
For instance, someone might appear to agree with another person’s request, but rather than following through with the request, they might express resentment or anger by not completing the task or missing deadlines. Signs of passive-aggressive behavior include:
- Resisting cooperation, procrastination, and mistakes made intentionally in response to someone’s demands.
- Resenting and opposing the demands of others, especially of those in authority positions.
- Cynical or hostile attitude
- Constant complaints about being cheated or underappreciated.
15. Stop If You’re Getting Nowhere
If it feels like you’re going around in circles, stop and regroup. Before you know it, cycles can become vicious when you and your partner repeat the same conversations and actions. Unfortunately, people often do and say the same things repeatedly because they don’t feel heard.
Instead, communicate your truth and understanding to your partner regarding their side of things. Once you do this, they will be more receptive to doing the same for you.
If you feel like your partner isn’t listening to you, look for an alternate way to say what you mean, but do so in a non-confrontational manner.
16. Search for Common Ground
If you look hard enough, you can typically find something you both can agree on, even if it’s just that you don’t want to argue anymore. Anything in common will help you get back onto the same team so you can figure out a solution.
Have you ever argued with someone so much that you’re now headed down a totally unrelated path and can’t remember how the disagreement began in the first place? When this happens, take a step back and figure out the common ground so you can start searching for a resolution again.
Never go into a relationship thinking you never want to argue because disagreements are inevitable.
However, despite all the nasty glares and slammed doors, there are ways to fight fair.
Fighting fair is powerful and can even bring you closer and help solidify your relationship. So, next time you feel an argument coming on, breathe and remember to utilize these steps. You’ll be a stronger couple on the other side of the fight.