How to quarrel properly with a loved one: 9 tips from a psychologist
No one teaches us how to conflict with a loved one. Is it acceptable to argue or cry? Can a quarrel last for several hours or even a whole weekend? Is it okay to insult your partner in front of your friends? Vice magazine’s correspondent conducted a survey, compiled a short list of common types of quarrels and sought advice from a therapist.
“We fight almost every week.”
According to psychotherapist Rosare Torrisi, having a conflict and fighting are not the same thing. “In my mind, people fight when one person intentionally behaves rudely toward another,” she says. Conflict, on the other hand, while not always pleasant, is still a healthy thing. Conflict turns into a scolding if partners start resorting to hitting below the belt, acting unfairly or being rude.
Frequent clashes are not always a problem. Moreover, they can be a sign that both partners can express themselves freely. “You live with another person, so there will always be differences in opinions, thoughts, beliefs and values between you,” says the therapist. – You want your partner to understand your thoughts and feelings. And this is normal.
If you think conflicts are something bad or are afraid that they indicate the failure of your relationship, perhaps the reason should be looked for in your upbringing:
“Most of us’ parents fought either secretly (so we grew up believing it was wrong to fight) or emotionally and loudly (so we are afraid of fighting). I believe that if you never have a disagreement with your partner, you are not being honest with yourself.”
“We often fight in front of our friends.”
Whether or not it is acceptable to quarrel in front of friends depends on cultural norms. However, since fighting is an intimate thing, your friends probably don’t want to witness it.
If you do bump heads in public, you should notify those present if you have reached any kind of compromise – otherwise they will only see conflict. This is especially important if you got into an argument in front of the children.
“It’s okay if the kids see you arguing,” Torrisi says. – But they shouldn’t see you arguing, because you shouldn’t be arguing at all. Either way, they should be aware of what’s going on. Let them know that you were disagreeing with each other, but you came to an understanding, and that’s okay.”
“We fight over the same things over and over again.”
Fights recur when couples face “unsolvable problems.”
In fact, most relationship problems are unsolvable. Including minor conflicts, such as the question of who should do what chores and when. They will arise again and again, because it is impossible to find the best solution once and for all.
But there is another kind of unsolvable problem – it has to do with values and needs. Lack of unanimity about such things cannot be overcome by short-term measures. “Disagreements about religion, money, sex, children, where to live, or drug use often lead to the end of a relationship,” Torrisi argues. So if you often fight over any of the above reasons, it may be time to think about your compatibility with your partner and whether you need the relationship.
“Our fights last for hours.”
If you’ve been arguing with your partner all day, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. But high-pitched conversations do wear you out a lot, though. When you waste precious time on conflicts that then flare up again anyway, it can happen for several reasons.
First, one of the partners may feel misunderstood. If you often feel that you and your significant other speak different languages, try writing your thoughts down on paper beforehand, speaking more slowly, asking more questions, or simply finding other words.
Also take into account external factors that affect mutual understanding. Try to move serious conversations to a different time of day (when you’re not as busy, distracted, or drunk) or to a more neutral place (like a quiet corner in the park instead of the bedroom).
It could also be that one of you (or both of you) is too verbose and tends to talk about your feelings in great detail. While this is satisfying for the speaker, it is very difficult for the other person to keep track of the long monologues, which makes it very difficult to understand.
Quarrels can drag on because you don’t address the core of the problem. If your complaints are superficial (for example, “I’m sick and tired of your dirty socks lying around”), you are likely to continue to go in circles. Understand that the root of the problem is not the socks. It’s just easier to talk about socks than it is to talk about the need for respect for your needs.
It is also possible that you are going around in circles because you are dealing with a really intractable problem. “In these cases, people fight to hide from themselves the fact that the relationship is over,” Torrisi says.
“Every time we fight, it ends in tears.”
People cry for a variety of reasons. Tears can be a physiological manifestation of relief, a way to soothe yourself or a sign of mental anguish. Therefore, the fact that you cry during an argument does not mean that there is something wrong with your relationship.
Some people feel that they are being manipulated when their interlocutor cries. But crying is a natural reaction that is very difficult to control, so if you accuse your partner of using crying to manipulate you, you are saying that they are hostile to you.
If you don’t believe that your partner wishes you well, your problems go much deeper.
“Our fights are very loud.”
Loudness is not always a cause for concern, in part because it is a subjective characteristic. “My family comes from Sicily. We always talk loud,” Torrisi gives the example.
If the loudness of your arguments bothers you, however, it may be that one of you (or both of you) is acting too emotionally. Raising your voice may indicate overexcitement. And if one of you is too nervous to control himself or herself, you won’t have a productive conversation.
But loudness is not the only sign of a surge of emotion. Even if you always speak in a low voice, you should pay attention to other signs of overexcitement: a rush of blood to the face, a rise in temperature, a rapid pulse, clenched fists, and sudden changes in the pitch and timbre of your voice. As soon as you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to take a break.
In order for the break to benefit you, two conditions must be met.
First, you must agree that you will return to the conversation. Excessive emotions should not serve as an excuse to postpone it indefinitely.
Secondly, you should try not to think about the quarrel during the break. Do something that calms you down. Go for a walk, take a shower, take a nap, meditate (it is better to refrain from alcohol and drugs in such cases).
If this seems impossible to you, you are not alone. What often happens is that one partner says, “I need to take a break,” and the other partner replies: “No breaks until we get everything sorted out.” In this case, the other partner is too excited and can’t calm down, so he seeks help from the first partner. He thinks that if he keeps talking, he will come to his senses.
But both partners are nervous, so they can’t help each other. When the conflict escalates, it sometimes comes to physical violence.
Torrisi in such situations is advised to use confidence-building gestures. You can, for example, take your partner’s hand, hug him or give him a compliment. Such little things can defuse the atmosphere, calm both sides and give you a reason to remember that you’re a team.
“There’s a lot of swearing and insults in our fights.”
Insults are a sign of a very unhealthy relationship. If you and your partner often use foul language in everyday speech, you may think there is nothing wrong with it. But insulting the other person during an argument is unproductive. It turns a healthy discussion into conflict.
Also, insults distract from the feelings you want to talk about. So if you often say things like, “Why are you such a bitch?” you should start explaining yourself differently. For example, “I feel disrespected,” “I’m hurt,” “I’m upset,” “I’m very disappointed.”
It’s important to have a broad emotional vocabulary, but few people know how to develop one. Sometimes it’s worth reminding your partner that the problem is more likely to be resolved if he talks about his own feelings.
“One of us often ignores the other.”
Completely ignoring one’s partner is a very bad behavior strategy.
It’s worth noting that defiantly ignoring the other person is not the same as saying, “I’m very angry, so I need to take a break to calm down.” According to Torrisi, many people confuse these things, so they resist the idea of taking a break before dealing with conflict. But there’s a big difference between the two behaviors. In one, we show respect and act fairly. In the other, we don’t care and just want to punish our partner.
Ignoring is often used for manipulation. It is an example of denial of emotional connection and a type of revenge – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This behavior often means the end of a relationship because it implies that one partner no longer wants to deal with a common problem.
“We often fight because of the way we fight, and we end up having two fights at once.”
We all have bad habits. It takes time and effort to learn how to talk to your partner when you are angry. And there’s nothing wrong with paying attention to unhealthy (insults) or unproductive (a tendency toward long monologues) strategies. There are times when you try to change a loved one’s behavior, but very soon you drift away from the substance of the dialogue as you begin to argue about when, where and how best to discuss the problem at hand, and this only increases the degree of tension.
If you often fight because of the way you fight, then it’s time to see a family therapist.
In addition to therapy, you can simply read psychology books or listen to podcasts about building family relationships (you can start with the Gottman Institute blog or John and Julie Gottman books). “You have to become your own experts on how to deal with problems in your relationship,” Torrisi says.
How to fight and make peace with a man properly
Even in the most ideal relationship, quarrels are inevitable. But only in one case they become a growth point for the couple and further strengthen feelings, and in the other they slowly kill love, leaving a bitter residue. Yes, yes, even arguments should be fought wisely! I, clinical psychologist Olesya Bykova, will talk about how to behave properly during conflicts.
Why is fighting an important part of a relationship?
There are such couples in which a man and a woman carefully avoid quarrels, being afraid of thus spoiling the relationship. But as a result, over time, dissatisfaction with each other is accumulated, emotional stress is growing, and this is replaced by indifference and detachment.
In fact, conflict is the natural development of any relationship, not only in love, but also in friendship, business, parent-child relationships. Thus two people mark and protect their personal boundaries, clarify existing contradictions, express negative emotions.
Thanks to this, the relationship between the two people develop, in the conflict they shed their masks and get to know each other as real people. This makes it possible to clarify what is going on and come to some kind of compromise. However, quarrels can only develop relationships if they run, let’s say, ecologically.
Wrong scenarios for a quarrel
Most people simply do not know how to engage in constructive conflict. In some cases, this is because they have learned from childhood some destructive parental patterns of behavior during quarrels, when, for example, the mother kept silent and the father yelled. It also happens that a person, in principle, cannot tolerate contradictions in relations with others. Other people’s negative emotions and discontent are unconsciously perceived by such personalities as a threat to their safety. Such people usually during quarrels simply unilaterally bring down all their anger on the opponent and leave.
As for gender specifics, some patterns of partners’ behavior during a conflict can be highlighted here as well. It is not for nothing that men are so popular to talk about “wife nagging” or “how to survive a quarrel with a hysterical woman”. And indeed: women tend to perceive even a minor conflict with their partner as an opportunity to finally find out the whole deeper meaning of their relationship and express their feelings. Thus over the top emotions often do not allow them to take into account a context of a situation (for example, that the beloved has come tired, he has problems, etc.) or to be limited to discussion of any actual problem. They use “dirty” tricks in the form of recollections of past mistakes of the partner, accusations or reproaches.
Men, as a rule, are frightened by this flow of women’s emotions, they are used to reasoning more substantively and directly – “what is wrong” and “how to fix it. That is why representatives of the stronger sex often take a passive or passive-aggressive position during conflicts. And then in response to anxious questions “why you did not call all day” woman gets only a grim “I’m tired. Not surprisingly, in the end, the conflict and mutual misunderstanding only get worse.
Stages of a quarrel in a couple
- Pre-conflict situation. At this stage, as a rule, we accumulate dissatisfaction with the behavior of the partner. In this case, its claims to the favorite (or loved one), we form only on the basis of their subjective ideas about how it should be “ideal”. For example, “he did not give flowers on the date, then he does not love me,” “came home upset from work, then must share immediately with me.
- The beginning of the conflict. At this stage, we somehow signal to our partner that we are not happy with something. Some personalities do this directly and emotionally, some do it passive-aggressively (e.g., being offended and silent all day). In either case, there is strong emotional tension in the couple, which is unpleasant for both of them.
- Development of conflict. At this stage, the mutual expectations of the partners collide, there is a realization that there are contradictions in the couple. If schematically, it can be designated as follows: the man says “I do not want you to walk around in such a short skirt, and everyone stared”, and the woman responds – “and what’s wrong, I like my skirt. This stage of a quarrel can be both constructive, through discussion, and destructive, with shouting, breaking dishes and tears.
- Getting out of the conflict situation . At this stage, the conflict is somehow resolved, either by finding a compromise or by concessions by one partner to the other.
It is worth emphasizing that for a healthy, fulfilling relationship to develop, it is important for a quarrel to go through all four of these stages. In toxic relationships, however, conflicts are often stuck either in the beginning or in the developmental stages, as if hanging in the air and leading nowhere. For example, when partners “sulk” for weeks at each other, silence discontent, and then gradually begin to communicate, as if forgetting about what happened. Or, when a man and a woman quarrel loudly and emotionally, insulting each other, and then, slamming the doors, go away. Incidentally, notorious sex after a quarrel is also often not an exit from the conflict, but a continuation of the conflict stage, when the constructive solution to the problem is replaced by the partners with sexual release.
Unresolved conflict sooner or later destroys the relationship – hurtful words accumulate in memory, unpleasant situations are repeated, misunderstanding and ignoring each other’s feelings grows. With such baggage, the couple quickly comes to a standstill.
How to quarrel correctly?
In order for the conflict to really lead to the development of the relationship, and not kill it, it is important to follow some general rules of conduct during a quarrel.
When you make rebukes to your partner along the lines of “you can never do anything right,” “you don’t care about me,” the only possible reaction to them is to be defensive. To really be heard, formulate the problem by talking about yourself and your feelings – “it upsets me when you stay late at work and don’t call, then I feel unloved”.
Limit the problem, not expand it.
Try to be as clear and constructive as possible about the problem in the context of the “here and now” – “you’re late,” “you’re on the phone and I want to talk to you,” etc.
Listen to your partner’s position
Don’t use the quarrel situation simply as a drain of negativity, try to give your loved one the opportunity to express his position and view of the situation. Let him know that you really hear him. This is the only way it may turn out, for example, that he is sitting on the phone on a date, because he is trying to solve a work-related issue.
Share the responsibility
Remember that in any conflict situation, the responsibility for its resolution lies with both partners. Therefore, the feeling of total guilt for the controversy, or, conversely, attempts to blame your partner for everything is destructive and will lead to nothing.
Finish the quarrel with a constructive solution.
Try not to get stuck in a conflict, and always come to some kind of compromise, put a point – “let’s you warn me if you’re staying out late.
- Showing aggression: insulting the partner, humiliating, using physical violence.
- Recall past conflict situations and grievances.
- To use some personal, trusted information about your partner against him or her – “your mother didn’t beat you as a child for nothing,” “now I understand why your ex left you.
- Trying to manipulate your partner with resentful silence, open accusations and recriminations.
- Refuse to make contact – try to shout your partner down, ignore his words, etc.
- Involve third parties in the conflict – e.g., call your partner’s mother and ask her to influence him or her, clarify relationships in front of strangers, etc.
- Give tough ultimatums: “it’s either me or your friends,” “either you quit your job or we get a divorce.
- Label your partner’s personality: “you’re like your father,” “you’re incapable of supporting me,” etc.
- Expect your partner to figure it out for himself or herself. Remember that everyone’s head has its own “set of cockroaches,” so don’t expect your loved one to guess what’s bothering you. Talk about it as openly and directly as possible.
Well, if after all your quarrel was not very constructive, and left an unpleasant residue, it is important to try to rehabilitate the situation. So, if you feel that you went too far, then it is worth to approach and openly apologize to your loved one. If your partner has offended you, but he does not come into contact, you can take the initiative and offer him to discuss what happened, again using the “I-position” (“it upsets me,” “it’s important for me,” etc.). If you do everything you can in order to establish communication, and the other half continues to behave destructively, it’s time to think – whether this man really values you and whether your relationship has a future.