"But we never argue!" are words of disbelief that often follow the discovery that your spouse or partner has been lying, cheating, or is about to walk out the door.
It's clear that a couple who never ever bickers or disagrees is probably not as happy as they seem to be on the surface. A complete lack of conflict of any kind in a relationship can be a serious sign of dysfunction. Because of weak trust, anxiety, or fear that it's not safe to be honest, one of you or both may be nodding and saying "yes, dear" because you think you have to. This is a recipe for relationship disaster!
Of course, it's also disastrous to be in a frequent state of tension and to regularly butt heads. Couples who swing the other way and bicker, quarrel, or wage all-out war on one another daily or weekly set themselves up for trouble.
To move closer as a couple, it's smart to stop hiding what you really think and want to try to avoid an argument and it's equally wise to find honest, authentic, and respectful ways to resolve disputes when they come up. Finding this balance lies at the core of creating a healthy and happy relationship.
The sooner you and your partner calm down after conflict develops and start working together to problem-solve, the faster you'll be able to return to enjoying loving one another. In fact, by facing down a challenge together — even if you seem to be on different "sides" — you can end up more connected than you were before. You'll understand one another more fully, and this fosters compassion.
Remember these 4 tips to turn an argument into a connecting moment:
1. Create communication rules you both will follow.
If misunderstandings between you and your partner tend to escalate into shouting matches, if things get thrown and broken, or if one of you frequently threatens to break up, know that these behaviors will kill passion and possibly your relationship too.
Even if arguments don't get out of hand, consider coming up with some communication rules that you both truly agree to and will follow. Be realistic about your agreements. For instance, it may not be reasonable to promise that neither of you will yell or get angry, but you can agree to not call each other names and to not threaten to walk out or leave the relationship.
When you're proactive about it, you can prevent the usual destruction and distance that comes when you two fight. Instead, you both have a plan for what's okay, what's not okay, and you do your best to stick to the plan on your way to resolution.
2. Be willing to take a "time out."
You can include in your communication rules a very important one: the "time out." When you're not arguing, talk with your partner about which behaviors are crossing the line. When you see that behavior in your partner or feel it coming on within yourself, that's your cue to ask for a "time out." A "time out" doesn't mean that either of you is "in trouble," it just means that you recognize that the immediate priority is calming down before trying to communicate further. Be sure to set a specific time when you'll sit down together again and revisit this issue.
3. Agree to strategies when one of you withdraws.
Taking a "time out" is one of the strategies to agree to try when disagreements cross the line. Come up with ideas for what to do when one of you shuts down too. Withdrawing may sound like: "It's fine," "whatever," or literally leaving the room to escape the argument. When you and your partner are both calm, talk about effective ways to re-connect and then remember to try them.
Here are some statements that open the door to re-engagement when they’re spoken lovingly:
"What are your ideas for solving this problem?"
"I want to know what you think."
"I'd like to explain what I mean in a different way."
"Please help me understand your silence right now."
4. Re-think "win/lose."
The key to moving closer to your partner — even if you've been arguing — is to change your mindset. Most of us slip into a win/lose or right/wrong approach. This comes through as criticism and ratchets up the tension and conflict.
Make it clear to your partner (and start by making it clear to yourself) that you're both on the same team. Re-think the entire situation and make it your highest priority to find a way you'll both feel heard, understood and that your needs will be met.
When cooperating and working through an argument together is the ultimate goal, you both win. And the way you communicate what you want and need can intensify an argument or return you and your partner to peace.
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