3 Steps to Avoid Unpleasant Arguments

By Lindsay Dupuis, M.A., C.C.C.

When couples fight, they often report going over the same problems time and again. Furthermore, many people express frustration around not feeling heard by their partners during an argument, and nothing really changing afterwards. This is a problem seeing as the root of most arguments lies in unmet needs in one or both partners. When needs go unmet, it often causes a rift in the pair bond, and if, upon attempting to fix this, one partner feels ignored or rejected by the other, it can lead to further relationship damage.

There are ways of breaking the argument cycle that affects so many couples. One of these ways is to change the way we’re expressing ourselves. What follows are 3 steps to clearly express our needs, while increasing the likelihood of triggering positive change.

1| Acknowledge the Good

When we feel that our needs aren’t being met, most of us have a tendency to tell our partners what they’re doing wrong, how they’re hurting us, or ways that we feel disappointed. When we point out these negatives, however, we’re prompting our partner to shut down and/or become defensive, which often leads to retaliation. And, when harsh words are thrown back at us, we end up feeling further unheard, hurt, or angry.

Realistically, while some of our needs may not be fully met, some of our needs usually are. If we can start by acknowledging what our partners are doing well, it will help defuse negativity, thereby lowering our partner’s defenses when bringing up a touchy subject. When we reinforce the things he/she is doing well, our partner will likely open up – instead of shutting down – and become more willing to listen.

2| Ask for a Favour

Another mistake that many of us make is that we tell our partners (or lecture them about) what they need to do. This can be accompanied by feelings of parenting rather than partnering (“I feel like I’m dealing with a child sometimes!”). The problem with this approach is that, when we tell someone what to do, we’re taking away their sense of perceived control. And, when we take away someone’s sense of control, they often fight to get it back.

Another way of communicating our needs is to ask our partner for a favour. When we make a (kind) request for help instead of demanding something (e.g. “Can you help me by taking the garbage out tonight?” vs. “You were supposed to take the garbage out.”), we give them power/control instead of taking it away. In other words, by asking for help, it gives our partner the chance to make our lives just a little bit better. Normally, when one has a chance to please their loved ones, it boosts their sense of purpose/usefulness, and they are happy to help out.

3| Share the Benefits

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to share the ways our partner’s help will make a difference (e.g. giving us more free time, more rest, a greater sense of connection). And, it’s important to extend these benefits to include how it will help them, too (e.g. “If you help with the garbage, I’ll have time to make us both a healthy lunch for tomorrow,” or, “It’ll give me a few more minutes to spend with you before bed”).

We’re best to remember that relationships are a two-way street – they’re not just about one person being happy. With there being something in it for our partner, we show that we value taking care of their needs and not just our own. Via the law of reciprocity, our partner is more likely to return the thought.

In addition to following these 3 steps, it’s important to keep in mind our tone of voice and body language when expressing ourselves. If our tone is confrontational or sarcastic, it’s a safe bet that our attempts will backfire. Likewise, if we hold our nose in the air while crossing our arms and diverting our eyes, our partner might take our words the wrong way.

Communicating our needs in an assertive and kind way is a delicate act, but once we find this balance, we may just find ourselves (and our partners) feeling much more fulfilled.

Mental health


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