Emotional Fitness

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Top 10 Tools to Avoid Ugly Arguments

Constructive arguments can be a pathway to growth.

Every couple argues. Some of the do it overtly by yelling at each other while others do it covertly by avoiding contact and conversation. Whatever the method, the result is the same - hurt feelings and disenchantment. Here are my tips to help you argue constructively, if done correctly it can be a pathway to growth and problem solving.

  1. Understand that anger itself is not destructive. There is a vast difference between anger and rage. When someone is angry they need to state their feelings, they don't break things or relationships - that is ragefull behavior.
  2. Talk about your feelings before you get angry. When you or your partner can approach the situation as it happens and deal with it in a safe way, it may not get to the point of being an argument. Sometimes things just need to be verbalized and most arguments can be avoided if your partner understands how you feel.
  3. Don't raise your voice. It's amazing how issues of hurt feelings or differences can be resolved with a whisper. I counsel couples who are yellers to only communicate with a whisper and it greatly reduces the anger factor in their relationships.
  4. Don't threaten your relationship and don't take every argument as a threat to your relationship. This type of emotional blackmail puts the other partner in a panic/flight or flight mode. While you're telling them you want to leave, they may be making plans to find a roommate. In addition, they may be so devastated by the thought of losing their family they can go into a deep depression and be unable to give you what it is you need.
  5. Don't stockpile. This is where you bring up issues from the past to use as a hammer against whatever problem your partner has asked for help with. Deal with their issue first and if you really have unresolved feelings from past problems talk about them at another time.
  6. Don't avoid your anger. If you stuff your feelings long enough you will explode and say or do things that you will regret. Anger does not diminish love, you can be angry with those you love. In fact the ones we love hurt us the most because we love them the most. 
  7. Create a process for resolving problems without anger. Start by each of you taking five minutes to state your feelings, then take a twenty minute break to think about things and come back to the table for another ten minutes to discuss how you think you can best deal with the problem. Also, know that it's okay if the problem doesn't get solved right away.
  8. Abuse is NEVER allowed. This includes verbal abuse, any type of violence including slamming doors, breaking plates or hitting. If your arguments escalate to this level you need to leave the house. If one partner ever hits another a police report needs to be made and an appointment with a therapist is mandatory. 
  9. Don't engage. Remember that negative attention is still attention. If your partner tries to goad you into an argument, simply don't go there. Some people actually like to argue because it gives them a temporary feeling of power and gratification. Avoid being sucked into their need for attention. 
  10. Listen to your body. When you are angry your body releases chemicals that may cause you to react in ways that can be destructive to you, your partner and your relationship. Learn to understand your feelings and how the process of anger effects you physically and emotionally.

Research has shown that couples who argue more than twenty percent of the time are probably not going to survive. Hopefully these tips will help you get your arguments under control and reduce the level of energy in those arguments. If not, and if you want to keep your relationship, you need to find a qualified couple's therapist. If you would like information on finding an appropriate therapist, send an e-mail to me at the web site below with the word "therapists" in the subject line. I will send you information about the different types of therapists and therapy available, and a list of some local clinics.

 

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, columnist, and radio host. His latest book is The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.

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