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5 Rules for a Productive Lovers' Quarrel

How to have a disagreement and keep the relationship together.

Let’s face it, in any relationship, no matter how great it is, there are going to be disagreements and times of conflict. When couples disagree and head toward a quarrel, there are certain rules to keep in mind. First and foremost, resolving relationship conflicts is all about good and open communication.

Rule #1: Keep Communication Lines Open and Direct.

One of the biggest problems when there is relationship conflict is that one or both partners “clam up” and stop communicating. This may be caused by fear of the other person’s reaction (or retaliation), or may be due to conflict avoidance. But, a good rule of thumb is to be as direct as possible (“We have an issue that needs attention," or, “Let’s talk about X”). Each partner should state the issues, from their perspectives, clearly and honestly.

If both partners get into the habit of engaging in direct communication, it gets easier to bring up issues over time.

Rule #2: Control Your Emotional Displays, But Let Your Feelings Be Known.

Although you may be angry or hurt, emotional outbursts are likely to make things worse. Instead, rein things in and explain what you are feeling and why. Likewise, being critical or trying to punish your partner is going to lead to an escalation of the conflict.

Rule #3: Use Non-defensive Listening.

When your partner expresses their feelings and perceptions of the argument, put your own feelings on hold temporarily in order to try to understand what your partner is feeling and where they are coming from. Don’t reply immediately, or try to contradict, but allow your partner to have a say and then take your turn.

Rule #4: Stay on Topic and Be Specific.

If your partner complains about some situation and/or your behavior, focus on the problem at hand. Don’t bring up other issues and start to cross-complain (e.g., “Well, you say I do X, you always do Y…”). That will only complicate the situation and make it harder to resolve.

Rule #5: Focus on an Optimistic Resolution.

Remember that the goal is to make things better, not to win or score points. If both parties enter into the discussion with a goal of resolving the problem and strengthening the relationship, the chances of resolution are greater.

Some additional “Dos and Don’ts”

  • Do try to focus on points of agreement.
  • Do try to accept your partner’s feedback with a mindset of positive improvement for the relationship.
  • Do seek professional counseling if you can’t handle the conflicts yourselves.
  • Don’t quarrel in front of children or others. There may be a tendency to turn to a friend or relative for their opinion, but keep the quarrel between the two of you.
  • Don’t explain your partner’s feelings to them. Accept what they express they are feeling.
  • Don’t walk away from the conflict, unless it is for a mutually-agreed-upon “cooling off period” before resuming the discussion.
  • Don’t use a quarrel as an opportunity to focus on your partner’s weaknesses in order to hurt them.
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