Communication is an important part of all relationships. To build a strong relationship you must learn how to communicate effectively with your partner. Sometimes that communication includes arguing.
Let’s imagine a scenario. It’s been a long day and you’re finally home and seated on the couch with your partner, in front of the TV. This is your first moment of relaxation and it’s together. The stress of the day is behind you and you start a conversation.
A typical conversation may start like this: “How was your day?” she asks.
“Good,” he replies, without taking his eyes from the screen.
Perhaps there is a moment of silence, which she breaks.
“Well, what happened in your day?” she asks.
“Can’t I just watch this program without you interrupting me?” he says.
Let’s look more closely at this exchange. One partner is looking for acknowledgement, conversation, or a connection and the other is looking to relax in an entirely different way by enjoying a TV program and not conversing.
She goes on to say, “I just want to spend some quality time with you after a long day.”
He replies with “Well, I would like to spend more quality time in the bedroom, but that doesn’t happen does it?”
This communication cycle may lead to more negative comments and ultimately one partner might shut down and walk away. One or both partners may be left feeling hurt, neglected, disconnected, and unhappy.
Is this exchange healthy? Is there such a thing as healthy arguing or a healthy argument? Is that something that happens in healthy relationships? You betcha!
Many mental health professionals will tell you, that YES, in fact, it’s great to argue and express yourself in a relationship. Arguing itself is not unhealthy. But it is HOW we choose to argue or express ourselves that makes the difference. Not communicating, avoiding certain issues and not expressing feelings can actually be a detriment to the relationship as it leaves you feeling more disconnected and can lead to an unhealthy and unhappy relationship.
Fear not, because there are keys to arguing effectively:
Key 1: Validation of Feelings
Instead of becoming defensive and throwing up walls, while the other person is talking. Validate your partner’s feelings. This enables safety and comfort to express your thoughts and emotions openly and honestly. Using the above example; something like this: “I can understand why you might feel like I don’t want to listen right now, I am sorry if I made you feel that way.”
Key 2: Reflective Listening
Instead of thinking about your response to your partner while they are talking, paraphrase back what your partner just said to show you were listening. This enables your partner to feel like they want to communicate with you more in the future because you were with them in that moment listening. Using the above example; something like this: “I am hearing you say that you feel disconnected from me when I don’t want to talk right away when I get home from work, is this right?”
Key 3: Make a Deal to get each other’s needs met
Instead of only thinking about what you want out of the argument, why not try compromise. Incorporate what you both want and make a plan! Using the above example; something like this: “If you try to communicate with me for 30 min or more after work each day, I would feel closer to you and be more willing to give you affection inside the bedroom.”
Learning to argue in a more healthy way can ultimately lead to more open and honest communication which in turn can create a more intimate bond with your partner and a greater understanding of each other’s needs and wants; leaving you both feeling more fulfilled inside of the relationship.
Jennifer Smith, MS is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Thriveworks Charlottesville