Love, Heartbreak

Stop Arguing! 5 Tips For Happier, Healthier Conversations

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You know those moments when you feel like you're having the same conversation (or argument) with someone over and over? Verbal Groundhog Day, in other words? Today it might be about the laundry and last week it was his mother. No matter the topic, the conversation almost always plays out the same way: it devolves to the point that you're not even sure what you were originally arguing about, leading both of you to feel frustrated and upset.

How does this happen? Usually it's because we are communicating in a mindless, automatic way. Rather than listening to him, asking how he feels, what he needs or is scared of, we simply react in the moment to what he is saying—even if it takes us down a path that has nothing to do with the real reason we are arguing. For example, say that while you are talking about where to spend the holidays, he makes a remark about your sister being too nosy and opinionated. If you're like most of us, your brain will latch on to that comment and before you know it, you are defending your sister rather than talking about the real reasons he doesn't want to go to your parents' house in December. If you were able to stop yourself from impulsively, emotionally reacting to that inane comment and instead refocused your attention on asking him why he really doesn't want to go, you might learn that he feels inadequate around your family or that he is scared his grandmother might not be around for the holidays next year.

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Ironically, in our pursuit to defend, justify, validate or prove our point, we often miss the big picture and end up saying things we don't mean, have nothing to do with the conversation or later regret. Rather than trying to understand him and where he's coming from, we probably are pushing him further away accidentally, which ultimately leads to more of a disconnect and more arguments. (And he likely is doing the same to you.) The good news is it doesn't have to be that way. Below are five tips that will help you enhance communication with the important people in your life, including your partner, kids, co-workers, friends and family.

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1.Decide what kind of conversation this is. We often don't realize that there are many different ways we can communicate in any particular conversation.  Sometimes we just want to transmit specific information ("go pick up the kids at 5 p.m."), yet at other times we want to talk through a difficult issue or connect at a deeper level. Knowing what the goal of your conversation is can help you decide whether it's worth it to argue about specific facts or whether it is best to accept the other person's assertions and move on to more important issues.

2. Make eye contact. The best way to emotionally connect with someone is to look him in the eye. It allows you to get out of your own head and connect to your feelings for the other person.

3. When dealing with emotions, don't argue with another person's perceptions—this is a big time waster. If you think something is red and he thinks its orange, there really is no compromise. Similarly, if he says he is upset, you can't really say he shouldn't feel that way. So, rather than arguing about who is right or how he should feel, accept that he feels that way and move on to understanding him, his feelings and perceptions. Accepting his perspective doesn't mean you have to agree with him or give in to his viewpoint—the goal here is to not waste time arguing about something that you don't yet fully understand or won't ever agree on anyway.

4. Focus on trying to understand the other person's view and experience. Rather than trying to make the other person see things your way (and win your point), try to understand why he feels that way or sees things as he does. It's amazing what you can learn when you simply ask someone why he thinks or feels the way he does. After all, the goal of your relationship isn't for you to be right and your partner to be wrong, right?

5. Just listen without an agenda. Although we don't realize it, we often have some kind of agenda in our conversations that we are not conscious of. If we let this agenda drive the conversation, we often end up discounting the other person's perspective and feelings if they are not aligned with ours. Obviously, if you are arguing over facts, having an agenda (and asserting it) is important. However, when you are trying to connect emotionally, having an agenda will only put more distance between you and him. So, notice when you have a specific agenda and try to refocus your attention solely on what the other person is saying. You can ask questions when he is done, but start by just listening.

Obviously, healthy communication is a two-way street—you can't do this on your own. So, share these tips with the important people in your life, so that you both can learn to talk and listen in healthy ways that enhance understanding and emotional connection. Slowing down to notice your reactions and feelings, asking questions and leaving any agendas at the door will help immeasurably.

Rebecca Gladding, M.D., is the co-author of  You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life.

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