For most people, arguments are a way of settling disputes without anyone getting injured.
For some, however, arguing actually includes the getting hurt portion, and the winner is the one who can stay upright longest.
It doesn’t have to be that way, nor does anger have to be a “bad” thing. Counting to 10 while holding one’s tongue can lead to peace, but equally as often it leads to the kind of festering resentment and lingering bad feelings.
So let’s define some good and bad ways of arguing. Starting with the good ways:
First person please. “I feel hurt” is a lot less threatening than “You hurt me”, and – like a good wine – it also goes down more easily.
Own your anger. Don’t keep shoving it down and smiling as though everything was perfectly fine, until it seriously and irreparably isn’t.
Something else you need to own is the fact that you knew, before you said or did it, that your spouse/mate/life partner would be upset. And you knew this because you have said or done it before. Past the one-year mark, almost all arguments are repeat performances that haven’t been resolved yet.
You are not “in it to win it”. An argument with a loved one or friend is designed to find common ground, not a trophy. So put it all in perspective and try to see the bigger picture.
Stay focused on the issue at hand, and don’t bring a list of all the other things your significant other has done in the past 10 years to hurt you. If you must, write the problem down, with input from both sides. If it still seems too overwhelming, by all means give it some time, at least a short break. After which both of you might realize how silly the argument was, and how much you really like one another.
Different habits for different life partners. Some couples enjoy arguing and others are appalled by raised voices and harsh words. Whichever type your relationship is, factor temperament into your fight rules.
The good ways to argue? Well, there are never going to be any good ways, but there are fair ways – or should we say “non-righteous” ways. Dictionary.com defines righteous indignation as: retribution, retributive justice; anger and contempt combined with a feeling that it is one’s right to feel that way (i.e., anger without guilt).
So, a few rules. A good argument follows a script. Couples who learn the script can avoid hurting each other too badly, but first they need to agree on their lines – and what type of behavior crosses that line. For many, these are specific words, like “always”, and “never”.
Going forward, imagine that these words have been redacted from your script, as have such trigger words as “chill”, “fine”, and “never mind. Also draw a marker through the words “seriously?”, and “whatever”. This latter, in the hands of your very angry significant other, comes out sounding extremely dismissive. Remember, being heard is the goal for both parties.
Carolyn Ehrlich LCSW, CGP specializes in Relationship Counseling NYC