The way you learn to argue is a huge factor in whether or not the conflict is constructive or destructive. Here are five tips on how to fight cleanly, to reach a solution and avoid a bad aftertaste.
Conflict is healthy and normal in all relationships. Especially at the beginning, when you have started to really care about them but the newness has worn off and you are discovering your many, many differences. Or when either of you is suffering from stress and nerves are running raw. This is quite common at the moment, as we spend much more time enclosed with each other, often in small spaces, than ever before.
1. Respect the other person at all times
No swearing and no calling names. No insults. No shouting. Do your best to argue without an audience. If things start getting heavy, call a time out and take up to 15 minutes to cool down before continuing.
When we go into “fight or flight” mode, our instincts overwhelm our common sense and our ability to reason. We also lose touch with our sense of humour and our empathy. That’s when we say things we regret. We’ve all been there and we’ve all done it. Let’s all try to be nicer.
2. Focus on the argument at hand
Keep the conversation on the facts and in the present. State your request clearly and explain why it is important to you. Keep the drama down and try to avoid generalisations, which means not saying “You always…” or “You never…” – instead, talk about what started the argument and the possible solutions. Paraphrase and repeat back, to make sure you understand what the other person is saying. Don’t parrot the other person – that’s just annoying.
3. Explain your intentions
Tell them how you feel and what you want to achieve. This should be the only reason for starting any argument. Start the conversation gently, saying that there is something you need to talk through with them or that you need their help with. Being forced to express this might make you realise that you are just mad in general, not really at them. So remember, no pouncing – don’t lie in wait for the other person so that you can have a go at them as soon as they come near you. You are not a cat.
4. Remember that there are usually two arguments going on
One has to do with feelings and the other has to do with content. If the feelings part gets very intense, even for only one of you, then you will never be able to deal with the content. You cannot reason with someone emotional unless they calm down.
If you tend to begin arguments by saying “You always make me feel…” try thinking about what else makes you feel that way to understand if there’s something underlying that you need to address in your own life.
5. Learn to apologise and to forgive
This means closing the argument and both agreeing that it’s closed. This may take several attempts, but it is essential to building healthy, strong relationships. Some differences cannot be “fixed” but just need to be accepted so that you can find ways to give each other space and fair warning when a storm is brewing. Accept them as they accept you and say you’re sorry. Do this properly – explaining why and what you are sorry for. Try to share something that you’ve learnt (about the topic or about them or you). Remember, feedback is a gift.