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It’s the battle of the century—you and your partner are locked in an endless back and forth. Between all the back and forth, you can’t recall what started this particular fight. All you know is that you’re not about to lose it, not this time. You throw out another insult and remind your partner how they forgot to take the trash out last week. Your move, you think.
While satisfying in the moment, arguments can crack the foundations of your relationship. If you’re fighting with your partner more and more often, it’s important to question why. Sure, all couples bicker now and then, but you don’t want to make this an everyday habit.
"Intimate relationships are always challenging simply because of their closeness and intensity," couples counselor Geoff Lamb tells Brides. "Things that we tolerate in friends and work colleagues seem to get to us when our partner does them. Challenges can often turn into fights, but they don’t have to. Fights are about winning and losing, but most couples’ experience is that even when you win, you lose."
Meet the Expert
Geoff Lamb is a psychotherapist, couples counselor, and author.
If you’re constantly at each other’s throats, even the most minor thing could spark a fight. The truth of the matter is that there are loads of niggling subjects that divide couples.
"In my practice, I’ve heard so many arguments about the right way to operate a dishwasher that I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to do the washing up by hand," says Lamb. "There are topics, [that are] essential to talk about when you’re in a relationship and living together, which can very easily turn into fights. These are sex, money, housework, living arrangements, children, friends, in-laws, work, time spent together, time spent apart, and commitments."
Lamb continues, "Talking about all of these can certainly turn into fights. It’s useful to note that one reason why [these topics] do is that they are important to us in our relationships. This means that we do need to talk about them with our partners, but perhaps we can find a constructive way of doing this."
Want a more harmonious relationship? While you may not be able to curb arguing completely, there are some approaches you can use to turn down the heat. Let’s take a look at 10 tips you can put into practice before you next bicker.
It’s not all doom and gloom. “Arguing indicates that something isn’t right in your relationship,” says Lamb. “That ‘something’ is important to you and so is your partner. The majority of us rarely have fights with people who aren’t important to us. Recognize these positives.” Once you know what the problem is, you can look to solve it.
This is a difficult habit to break, but you should at least try. "Most fights are about proving to our partner that they’re wrong, unjustified, or unreasonable for not doing what we want them to do. Instead of getting into a fight about this, why not try asking for what you want because it’s important to you?" suggests Lamb.
"Difficult subjects are challenging because they generate a lot of emotion," says Lamb. "When you feel a strong emotion coming up, especially anger, find some space by yourself to think about things. Anger usually arises when we have a need that’s not being met, we don’t feel listened to, taken seriously, accepted, or understood. When you go back to your partner, focus on what you need."
"It’s tempting to treat a relationship like a court of law. We want to build a case against our partner, and to do that we sometimes gather 'evidence' from past experiences to support our case," says Lamb. "This makes the whole thing much bigger than it needs to be. They either have to admit that they’re wrong, they’ve always been wrong and can never be right, or they have to fight you.”
Rather than dragging up the past, stay in the present moment and stick to the topic at hand. "Focus on the issue that’s bothering you currently and find a way of asking for what you need, without making them feel bad if they don’t give it to you."
When you’re in the midst of an argument, you may fall into the trap of blaming your partner for everything. Instead of focusing on what you think they’ve done wrong, focus on your emotions. “The important thing is to convey how you’re feeling rather than accusing your partner,” adds Lamb.
Your words don’t always need to shoot to kill. "Taking a breath gives you an opportunity to think about why you want to say the mean thing," explains Lamb. "Usually, we say mean things because we feel hurt ourselves and want to hurt back. Saying something like, 'I’m feeling so hurt, I want to say something undermining.' We’ve been hurt and we want the other person to be hurt so they understand how that feels. Using the kind of wording I’ve described can achieve that without starting a fight."
If you’re mad, you might have forgotten how much your partner means to you. "Build up a reservoir of good feeling in the relationship including why you love each other," says Lamb. "Other things [that] can go into this reservoir are the good times you have together, moments of intense closeness, and unsolicited acts of kindness. Draw on it when things get tough."
There are two sides to every story. Take a look at things from your partner’s perspective. "Convey your understanding of your partner through your actions—thinking what they might want us to do and doing it," suggests Lamb. "The danger here is second-guessing our partner, which is liable to prolong a fight."
Stop thinking about what you have to say and take a moment to listen. "A good alternative to second guessing is to ask questions and listen to the answers," says Lamb. "When we’re listening, most of us focus on what we’re going to say next rather than on what’s being said. In a difficult conversation, we also tend to focus on whether what’s being said is true. We’re not really listening to our partner with the aim of understanding them. Listen to your partner’s experience as just that—their experience—without worrying about whether it’s objectively true or valid."
Of course, if you just can’t quit fighting, you might need expert help. “Whilst I hope some of the above tips will be helpful, putting them into practice isn’t easy when your relationship is entangled in winning and losing fights,” says Lamb. “Couple therapists can help you to experience a different outcome. They are trained and experienced in talking about all aspects of relationships. They will want to support both partners equally in making [the couple’s] relationship the best it can be.”
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