Smashing fresh flowers and throwing hurtful sentiment may seem like powerful ways to get your point across in an argument. But then, the damage is done. Flower petals are all over the floor and counter and your partner’s heart and trust are shattered. A mess is just waiting for someone to clean it up. Being able to argue constructively is a trait we all need to get better at. And, though this is highly individualized and unique to a couple, here are five practical things you can do “improve” your next argument.
1. Make sure neither of you is hungry
Before emotional suffering can be properly heard and nurtured to health, people need to eat. And, though intellectual “food for thought” is always good, it is not as helpful as caloric intake. In the height of an argument, when it feels like all is lost, or when there seems to be a wall of miscommunication, stop. Put your artillery down and ask your partner to dinner.
Then, after your respective blood sugars are up, begin a conversation again. It is often easier to hear someone’s feelings after your own basic needs are being met. In addition, you may just be enjoying your partner’s company again, leaving room for concern for their feelings rather than hurt over your own not being heard.
2. Establish a safe word
Sometimes a fight just needs a breather. You both have screamed your feelings until no body is listening and you both are hurt. If you can establish a safe word used to pause the fight and reestablish a connection with your partner, you may find that when pressing “play” again, the feelings are in a different place. No longer are they being launched like arrows. Instead, the feelings are more like battle plans. But, rather that being used to fight you, the map is one to a better relationship and reconciliation.
3. Form “Safe Zones“
In every relationship, there should be untouchable subjects. And, in a fight, that should not change. These untouchable subjects should be given a home in a safe zone where they are never used to hurt and, typically, are only drawn out of their safety in order to work through some of the feelings surrounding them.
For example, an all-too-typical issue for many are “parent issues.” Though there are a variety of manifestations, these issues usually come out in the form of insecurities regarding abandonment, smothering, not living up to expectations, etc. If your partner is hurt over a text not being returned and you scream at the top of your lungs that they don’t know how to love because their mother was never there for them, the fight just escalated. Though a plate wasn’t thrown and flowers were not smashed, your partner’s trust in you is hindered. You have smashed it. A sensitive issue that was placed in your hands to understand, to give lenience for, with which to better care for your partner was just used against them.
Instead, in times of peace and closeness, set these untouchable boundaries, understanding the severity of breaking through and using these past heartbreaks as weaknesses to take advantage of.
4. Take a walk
Like any good “fight or flight” conversation, there has to be the other option – flight. When a situation is big or small, anger can bubble up and over, creating a danger to your relationship. Rather than take the risk of hurting your partner with defenses, unprocessed feelings, or displaced anger, take a walk. It doesn’t even have to be alone! You can take a walk with your partner if you can still manage to be around them, if the argument hasn’t escalated too far.
And, if your partner requests time to take a walk, understand that they needed a break. There needs to be a time of processing what has already been said and felt. There needs to be a place of re-centering oneself. There needs to be an allowance between partners for each to find a few moments to lower defenses and reignite good feelings for the other person.
5. Recognize that not all fights are worth the damage done by the battle
In the heat of war, forgetting to take out the garbage, not texting back in a timely manner, or saying “love you” instead of “I love you,” can seem like deal breakers; but they’re not. These annoyances, frustrating as they can be, are not typically worth throwing in the towel of a relationship. However, deeper issues can make these issues seem like the iceberg of the Titanic that is your relationship.
Rather than attack your partner with accusations of laziness, neglect or insufficient love for you, take deep breaths. Search for a deeper reason for your anger, hurt, or annoyance. If the search lands you in the same anger over the garbage or texts, then address the issue then and there. The issue doesn’t have to go deeper by being heaped on to other problems. However, if there is something else that is behind the surface, communicate that to your partner.
Leaving bigger issues unaddressed while up-heaving an otherwise trite habit is unfair to your partner. Raising their defense over garbage will leave the walls resistant to your actual feelings.