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Dealing better with arguments

Experts on relationships say it’s impossible to be close to someone without sometimes arguing and this is backed up by the findings of the Enduring Love? research project, which interviewed more than 5,000 people about their relationships.

But why do arguments happen, and how can you avoid them?

Arguments often heat up when one person feels strongly that they’re right and the other person is wrong.  Both of you can end up defending your position and dismissing what the other person has to say. This can lead to a stand-off where you both feel rejected.

Try to get away from the idea of being right or wrong, or of winning or losing an argument. Instead of thinking that one view is categorically right or wrong, accept that there can be many valid points of view. 

If you’re prepared to listen and consider what the other person’s saying, you’re more likely

  • to understand their position
  • to find a compromise or a middle ground
  • to agree to disagree – this involves recognising that your are both OK with not agreeing about some things

We argue too easily and it always gets blown out of all proportion as a result of not listening to each other.

Enduring Love interviewee

Try to see things from their side

It’s not always easy to see where someone else is coming from. Most relationship therapy – when a professional therapist helps a couple to resolve their problems – is about helping partners see things from the other person’s point of view. You could try one of the following to put yourself in your partner’s shoes:

  1. Choose a time when you’re both feeling calm and go over a recent argument.  Spend 10 minutes each really listening, without interrupting, to what the other person has to say. Then give each other feedback on what you’ve understood. 
  2. Remember a recent argument and try writing it down from your point of view. Then try writing it down from your partner’s point of view. Another way to do this, is instead of writing down both versions of the argument, tell them to a friend.
  3. Check out Love Smart which takes you through a series of questions to help you identify issues in your relationship, why they’re happening and how you can deal with them.

If you can see things from your partner’s point of view, it can help you understand each other and bring you closer together. 

Observe your arguments

How you argue can be part of the problem. Try to think about how you behave and how you feel when you argue. For example, some people find a raised voice frightening while others find it perfectly normal to talk loudly in a discussion. And some people are used to interrupting and being interrupted and others are used to talking in turns.

Can you think of anything that makes your arguments worse, such as

  • a particular time of day?
  • the setting?
  • alcohol – do arguments get more heated if one of you has been drinking?

If you can work out how you communicate best and become aware of any triggers that make your arguments worse, your disagreements are less likely to get out of hand. 

4 things to try when you want to take the heat out of an argument:

  • Listen – and your partner is more likely to listen to you
  • Stay calm. If you’re getting angry, breathe slowly and count to 10 before replying
  • Don’t let it turn into a slanging match. Hold back on saying hurtful things 
  • Use ‘I’, not ‘you’. Talk about how you feel. Don’t make assumptions about your partner

6 steps to handling arguments

Here are some brilliant tips from Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationship support. If you want to raise a tricky topic with your partner, start the discussion in as friendly a way as possible. Avoid going in all guns blazing and avoid being critical or sarcastic.

  1. For instance, you might, say, ‘can we talk about how much time we spend together? I think it would be good to discuss what each of us wants’. Don’t say ‘I’m so angry about never seeing you – why do you like spending all your time with your stupid mates instead of me?’
  2. Try to understand your partner’s reactions, and remember that there may be some other hidden issues at play here – not just the ‘surface’ problem. For example, if your partner says, ‘I don’t want to spend time with your family’, remember that perhaps at home, they find it stressful to spend time with their family and might worry that it will be a similar situation with your family. It will need careful and sensitive negotiation, over a period of time, to alter this pattern of expectations.
  3. Even if you are really annoyed, try to respect your partner’s views. Instead of saying, ‘I’m not a child!’ try, ‘I know it’s important to you to have your freedom, but I need to be able to tell you if I’m feeling lonely’.
  4. Take responsibility for your own emotions and be honest with yourself about why you are so upset. Has something from the past been stirred up by this row? Do you fear loss of control in other aspects of your life? Saying, ‘You make me so angry…’ places the blame for your feelings squarely on to your partner. Yes, their behaviour may have triggered it but the depth of your feelings may have little to do with the current problem.
  5. Keep an eye on the physical feelings you’re having, which are warning signs that you’re losing control. These feelings might include a knot in the stomach, breathlessness or tears, and all spell trouble. Leave the room, and take time to calm down.
  6. Be prepared to compromise! Don’t stick too rigidly to your desired outcome and be prepared to give as well as take. This is often the only way to reach a win-win solution. Ask your partner what they want to achieve – don’t guess or assume that you already know. Then tell them what it is you are hoping for, and explore different possibilities together until you reach a solution that both are happy with.

These techniques really do work but this doesn’t mean that you will never have another bad argument. If it happens again, look at what went wrong, think about how you could have handled it better, and aim to do better next time. Then forgive yourself, and your partner, and move on.

Get more advice from Relate about coping with arguments, including: what to do if you feel your partner is always criticising you, how to cope with the little things that annoy you about your partner and how to recognise emotional abuse.

How to argue better

Relate are the UK’s largest provider of relationship support. Watch their video on how to argue better.

When to seek help

There are some types of conflict that you shouldn’t put up with. For example, if your partner

  • raises a hand when angry, like they are about to hit you – or actually hits you
  • forces you to go further sexually than you want to
  • gets angry when you don’t drop everything for them

If you think your partner is trying to control you or harm you in any way, it’s important to get help. Visit our page on abuse in relationships which describes the different types of abuse and how to get help. 


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