Thursday, 9 March 2017

How to communicate with your significant other when arguing! (Part 1)

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Whether we call it a heated discussion, disagreement, or fight, arguing with someone we love is never easy. It can leave us feeling upset, frustrated, and even guilty about things we wish we had never said. Try as we might to avoid it, conflict is inevitable in any close relationship. However, there are things we can do to communicate more effectively while making sure we respect our partner’s feelings and, ultimately, make an argument feel a little more constructive.

1. Own your piece

We all know it’s best to describe our partner’s behavior when sharing something we’re upset about. As much as possible, it also helps to focus on our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sharing the way we feel and proposing how we’d like things to be different (e.g., “I feel hurt when you… I think it could help if you...”) can help our partner hear our message without feeling personally attacked or blamed.

Owning our piece of an argument goes beyond using “I statements”. It’s about knowing what sets us off and recognizing how our particular vulnerabilities make us feel like benign comments are personal attacks. It’s also important to take responsibility for our piece of the conflict. Focusing on our own reactions can be equally important when we’re disagreeing with our partner. Instead of being defensive (e.g., “Actually, this is your fault” or “You’re overreacting”) saying something like “I don't necessarily see it that way” can help diffuse the tension going forward.

2. Never overgeneralize

Statements like “You always …” or “You never…” often come from a place of frustration or our desire to emphasize just how upset we really are. These kinds of overgeneralizations actually take away from the message we’re trying to send. They also devalue the moments when our partner really does make an effort, which can increase resentment on both ends. Avoiding exaggerations makes it more likely that our partner will be receptive to what we have to say.

3. Don’t assume you know what each other is thinking or feeling
When we’ve been together for a while, it’s easy to assume that we know what our partner is thinking. We might also feel like they should know what we’re thinking or feeling. While having insight into each other’s reactions can be helpful, it can also lead to further conflict when one person guesses incorrectly. Noticing and questioning our assumptions (e.g., by asking our partner what they’re actually experiencing) can help to limit misunderstandings.

It’s also important to take the time to clearly explain what we’re really thinking or feeling, and to not make our partner feel badly when they aren’t quite sure on their own. In fact, it’s actually kind of nice knowing we can still surprise each other from time to time.

4. Pick your battles
There will be times when our partner unintentionally says or does something that hurts us. Perceived criticisms aren’t always personal attacks and we need to let some things slide. Of course, arguments happen in less than ideal circumstances from now and then. Finding a time to express your perspective when there aren’t others around and you both have the time to really hear each other out in an environment that feels safe and comfortable helps to foster a constructive and respectful discussion.

5. Be specific without going overboard
Being specific and having examples to back up our points can help us focus on our partner’s behavior and avoid overgeneralizations. It’s a fine line between having a few key examples and making it seem like we’ve been keeping a running tally. Focusing on a few recent or significant examples and being prepared to explain how we felt and what we’d like our partner to do differently next time is usually the best way to go.

Written by Miriam Kirmayer

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