Expert tips and advice on how to stop arguing and bickering
Category: Better Relationships | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 25-09-2010 | Modified: 03-01-2018
Have you found lately that you’re struggling with arguments in your relationship?
Are you living with endless rows, shouting, stonewalling and that horrible sense of rejection? Are the relationship problems piling up on you?
Well, I’m here to help you to get to grips with what’s wrong. My aim is to show you how the two of you can resolve any future disagreements much quicker without inflicting all that pain.
If you're constantly angry with each other, chances are that you're too often feeling unhappy and anxious.
The anger that comes with bickering and arguing sometimes masks the sadness about things going awry. It also comes from the frustration of an old problem rearing it's ugly head yet again.
You or your partner may even question your compatibility. That is, unless you're one of these couples who always bicker and just take it as it comes.
I’m hoping that the information here and on in other articles will equip you with ways to better communicate about why you become so 'passionate' - relationship help is at hand!
More than anything, I want to reassure you that even though you have rows, your relationship may actually be very strong - perhaps even because of the arguments!
Oh, and you may also want to read my article with stress reduction tips and 25 Common Relationship Problems.
Setting out to win an argument will undermine the health of your relationship
Putting your arguments in perspective
If your relationship is really not a bed of roses right now, we better get it sorted...
- First of all, when you begin to focus on meeting each other’s essential emotional needs you’re much more likely to be able to ride the waves and calm things down. Have a look at my page on the Human Givens.
- Prof John Gottman has done loads of research into what makes a happy, long-lasting relationship or marriage*. According to him, the most important thing is that you have five positive experiences for every negative one. How can you bring that about?
- In addition, consider what you could be doing if you weren't arguing! What exciting things could you to do together or talk about (see my Save Your Relationship Communication Kit) instead of wasting your time bickering about things that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things?
Nevertheless, you're here because you can't stand the arguing any longer. For starters then, let's get the following out of the way....
10 Ways to start an argument and increase your relationship problems
- 'Settling scores' - a guaranteed way to cause relationship issues or marital problems
- Power battles and/or scoring points for whatever reason
- Treating your partner with contempt
- Wanting to be right all of the time
- Wanting to win an argument
- Manipulating your partner or situations to get your own way
- Undermining the person you are supposed to love - no wonder you've relationship issues!
- Using your partner or spouse deliberately to get what you want
- Controlling your partner or spouse
- Abusing your partner in any way, for example financially, physically, mentally and/or emotionally
There's no doubt that your relationship will go sour when you use any of the above. Dangerously though, the latter may result in a very compliant partner on the road to long-term psychological problems!
Do you recognise any of the above?
Whilst all of these behaviours are obviously unhelpful in a relationship - there's a reason for them, though not an excuse.
If you've found yourself resorting to communicating using any of the above spoilers, then you may 'just' be attempting to meet some essential emotional needs. Those needs may be - for example - your need for attention, or your need for a sense of safety, or friendship and even laughter.
Always the same pattern?
How NOT to argue
If you constantly argue, you’re likely to make the same communication mistakes over and over again.
I’m guessing that you’re blaming your partner and can't understand why he or she 'isn't getting it' and why things aren't getting any better. I accept, though, that he or she may be to blame (if you really want to use that word), but you do need to find another way to get your point heard.
If you continue to react and behave in the same way I’m afraid the outcome isn't going to change either.
You might also want to take a look at my page: Warning Signs of a Breakup.
All those arguments may have led you to consider ending your relationship or marriage. If so, you might want to get a clearer picture of the situation, and find out for sure if your relationship or marriage has a chance of survival. My Relationship or Marriage Compatibility Test will help you to do just that.
Now... back to how you can improve your communication and assert your points without causing a damaging row...
Relationship help -
Things you can do to prepare for a 'good' argument
It helps if your partner knows in advance that you want to discuss something important, or something that you know would normally cause an argument. Here’s what you should consider:
10 Tips for a fruitful discussion
- Know what you want to achieve in the ideal circumstances
- Consider alternative solutions or outcomes that you can live with
- Know what you’re willing to give up – remember: it’s not about 'winning'
- Consider how you could be biased. Read up on confirmation bias and attitude polarisation (see Wikipedia links below)
- Work out what you want to say beforehand, write it down if necessary
- Consider your tone of voice - how you say things is really important
- Be prepared to sooth yourself
- Practise responding calmly to any potentially adverse reactions (REALLY important!)
- Be prepared to learn from any criticism - accept it, or simply cast aside if it is destructive
- Make sure you're sober - don't have a difficult conversation when you've had a drink.
It can be really helpful to decide on a ‘reward’ for after the conversation. Plan something that you’re both looking forward to doing together.
Conversations about difficult subjects are only a part of your relationship. You can nurture your marriage or relationship by planning new and rewarding activities. (Tip: a new activity increases the level of dopamine - a ‘feel-good’ hormone linked with excitement and energy.) And of course, pay your partner a compliment every day, remind them and yourself why he or she is so special!
If you know you need to talk about something important with your partner, and you think it might turn into a fight, then read on..
Below are some tips to help you have a constructive discussion without it disintegrating into a full-blown argument.
Set the scene for 'fair fighting' - more relationship help
- Make sure that it’s a good time for both of you. Couples can turn disagreements into fights simply by picking the wrong time to discuss something contentious
- Get the Stop Arguing hypnosis download and listen to it frequently
- Give yourself the best chance of tackling the problems calmly by reading my article on relationship communication
- Familiarise yourself with the importance of nonverbal communication
- Make sure that you won’t be disturbed – turn off your phones, the TV and the radio etc.
- Establish ground rules before you start to ensure a 'fair fight' – for example, agree to stay calm and not to allow shouting, name calling or put-downs etc.
- Agree to stop or take a break when you fear you are losing control
- Set a time limit on the conversation - perhaps 20 - 30 minutes
You may not necessarily come to a conclusion, but if you've managed to have a respectful discussion then you’ve been successful. I recommend that you agree on a time when you can build on your discussion to work out some agreement that would suit you both.
Tips to help you restore the balance in your relationship
10 Tips to help prevent the two of you arguing so much
- Invite your partner to help you to both get the best out of the ‘chat’
- Give your partner plenty of time to express him or herself
- Avoid interrupting at all costs! Interrupting your partner is sure to lead to an argument
- Listen out for underlying emotional needs that haven’t been met. When you’ve been married or in a relationship for some time, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that you both need to have your essential emotional needs met in balance
- Ask questions in a neutral tone of voice and avoid making assumptions
- Remember: listening does not imply that you’re agreeing!
- Repeat what you think you’ve heard in your own words
- Summarise to check that you have understood as much as possible
- Ask how the other’s solution will solve the problem without arguments
- Ask and ensure that your partner allows you to do the same - offer solutions that will prevent you arguing as a couple
Listen carefully - L.O.V.E
L earn – in order to learn, listen
O bserve – observe the other person's body language
V erify – clarify information
E mpathise – Keep your heart open at all times*
How do you use anger?
Are you absolutely sure you're right?
Of course you're absolutely sure you're right!
But are you really?
Just watch this video - you'll be shocked and amazed...
How to turn a nasty row into a great passionate discussion
10 Ways to prevent a major discussion turning into a major row
- Be specific and focus on one issue. Don’t drift into other issues as this will just complicate things
- Stay on topic - avoid talking about other people and events
- Be brief. Avoid being wordy or bore your partner with a long monologue
- Illustrate your point if necessary with one or two brief examples only
- Turn complaints into wishes. This is one of the best ways to stop disagreements turning into fights
- Contribute to a positive outcome - each of you can make a choice about what you each can do to help
- Accept that you may remain of a different opinion. There’s no point in repeating the same statements over and over again
- Learn to enjoy giving rather than controlling - without a direct expectation for something in return. That doesn't mean allowing yourself to be trampled over!
- Build up credit in your emotional bank account. Suprise your partner every now and then with a special meal, a gift or a little love note tucked in a pocket or bag.
- Refrain from using communication spoilers (see part 1)
How to conclude your discussion
- Brainstorm together for ideas neither of you had even considered. Make it fun and who knows what you can come up with!
- Confirm what each of you is responsible for to ensure a successful outcome
- Discuss the best way to remind each other of agreements, without pressure and arguments
- Be clear together what the consequences are for non-committal
- Set a date and time when you can ‘revisit’ the subject (I call it a ‘board meeting' when I work with couples)
How to prevent setting yourself up for failure
You can prevent major rows simply by avoiding major discussions at particular times...
10 Occasions when it's not a good time to have a major discussion
- When one or both of you are under the influence of alcohol - an absolute 'no, no'
- When one or both of you are about to go out
- When you’re driving
- When there are other people around
- When your children can overhear (though they need not be protected from well-argued disagreements)
- When you’re tired, hungry or ill
- When you feel particularly stressed
- When it’s a 'special' days (birthdays, Christmas, etc) - the memory of a negative event is likely to hang around much longer
- When you already know that there is a better time!
- When you've had little sleep
Can't even be bothered anymore to be nice to each other? It's time to seek help!
If the two of you are constantly at loggerheads, it’s time to seek some help. Counselling, as an individual or as a couple can really help to transform your relationship. It's easy now to set up online counselling and have your very own licensed therapist standing by to help and guide you (both).
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Getting the Best Relationship Advice
How to 'Make' Your Partner Fall in Love with You Again
Are You Really Compatible?
Fear of Commitment
Pregnant but No Support from Partner
Is Your Partner Cheating on You?
How to Apologise Gracefully
How to Spot the Warning Signs of a Break-up
How to Deal with Criticism
Take These Steps to Improve Your Communication Skills
How to Deal with A Birth Trauma
How to Overcome Your Anger Problems
The Effects of Divorce on Children
*Gottman, J., Silver, N. What Makes Marriage Work? Psychology Today, 19 June 2012, via Psychology Today
*British Association of Anger Management. Anger Management Therapy: Keep Your Cool Kit. Via BAAM
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