Arguments in relationships get a pretty bad rap. There are a lot of articles on the Web based on avoiding arguments. The truth is conflict is a natural form of creating boundaries and learning about each other. It is not the arguing/debating itself that can be hurtful to a relationship, but rather the poor techniques involved with its execution. Here are seven simple strategies to ensure your occasional debate with your partner is handled with finesse, sensitivity, and above all -- maturity.
Start and Finish Disputes on a Positive Note
One of the biggest reasons arguments end badly is because they start poorly as well. Choose an appropriate time when you and your partner are rested and connected. By connected, I am referring to being in sync with each other, as in after food shopping, gardening, or taking a walk together ("together," being the qualifying word). Open the conversation with how much you appreciate the good things about the relationship, before discussing anything that might be construed as bad. When you're finished, thank your partner for their time and attention, and remind them that you love them.
Use "I", Not "You"
Nobody likes the blame game, and arguments should never be based on what the other partner is doing, but rather how the effected partner is feeling. The worst statements are generalizations, or absolutes like, "You always stay at work late," or "you never help around the house anymore." Instead, validate your reason for the discussion with personal observations such as, "I feel like you don't want to spend time with me," or "I would appreciate a little more help with chores."
This is one of the more obvious strategies, but you would be surprised at the number of arguments that take place, where nobody is really listening to each other. Instead, partners are too busy rolling their eyes, interrupting, or rehearsing what they're going to say next. Until you really "get" what it is your partner is saying, you will not reach an acceptable resolution. What's more, when your partner senses you aren't listening, it puts them on the defense. One of the best ways to show a partner you're attentive to the problem is to look them in the eye.
Respect is one of the fundamental necessities of working through conflict. It allows both sides equal say on the matter. It reduces the occurrence of stonewalling (refusal to talk or listen). It finds an appropriate time and place to talk (don't start arguments in public or in front of the kids), and it ensures raised voices, sarcasm, and verbal abuse stays in check. If you feel your tolerance level reaching its limit, take a break -- and walk away. Just make sure you let your partner know you need time (don't just leave the room), and then make sure you come back and rejoin the conversation within 24 hours.
Your Goal is Not to Win, It's Compromise
The immature strategy of an argument is to win. The mature strategy is to work to make sure both partners are victorious. In arguments where there's a winner, it leaves behind a sticky residue on the relationship, which will guarantee hard feelings the next time conflict arises. A few techniques to ensure a unanimous win-win situation, is to brainstorm solutions, make a pro/con list, or pull a third party (counselor) into the mix if you really find yourselves at a wall.
Stay On Topic
Taking one problem on at a time is a good rule of thumb when dealing with conflict. A lot of partners will bring up various other upsets/past events, in order to shed some of the heat from themselves, but it will only confuse matters worse. It's difficult to solve a problem when different topics are being introduced. With this said, there's one caveat. Sometimes an argument about coming home late or not doing chores underlies an even bigger problem, such as fear a partner is cheating, etc. If you sense there's more to the issue than what appears, take the time to question your partner.
This strategy is quite simple. If you don't understand what your partner is trying to say, ask more about it. Use the advice above to help formulate appropriate questions. You never want to insult or insinuate your partner is a poor communicator ("You never make any sense, what are you trying to say?" "Is it that time of the month again?"). Sometimes by asking them to clarify the problem, you are not only helping yourself understand their feelings, but you're helping discover any hidden instigators of the problem (lack of time spent together, etc.).