Almost every relationship has fights. Friends and family as well as romantically. If you don't fight, it's because someone is biting their tongue or they are masters of diffusing arguments before they even begin. For a lot of us, we're not so lucky. Doomed to an endless cycle of "no, my way is right" and "you're not listening to me." Point after point after finger point is thrown around tirelessly. Eventually you're exhausted by the long fights and miscommunication. Here are some tips on healthy arguing.
Assume good intentions. One of the first things my wife and I realized when we first started dating, is that most of our fights were, what we called, "I love you" fights. "I always make time to see you, you don't ever initiate." "You're always late to our dates." These fights all translate to "I love you, love me the same way." Not all fights are about that. Some are about money, kids, or in-laws. Regardless of what kind of fight it is, do not jump to conclusions and realize that almost everyone has good intentions about where they are coming from.
Listen to your body for defensive/aggressive queues. Everyone reacts differently to fights. You may feel like there's a stone in your chest. Maybe you're choked up. Are your hands clenching? Teeth gritting? Eyebrows furrowed? Get to know what your body does when you are about to go into fight mode. The best thing to do is once you realize your body is starting to tense...
Calm down first. I was reading a survival guide and one of the first things they mention is to calm yourself down with controlled breathing. In emergency situations (or during a heated argument) your adrenaline is pumping, telling you to take action now. That sense of urgency causes people to get turned around or hurt because their adrenaline is blinding them. They don't take the time to stop and think about their actions before executing. The same goes for arguments. Tell the person that you need to take some time and think so you can communicate effectively. Even before any fights begin, let them know that you're trying something new and whenever a dispute arises, you would like to take a time out to collect yourself as to not escalate the fight. You can even create a break word (a safeword) that you agree upon so that they can let you have your time. Reassure them that you are going to return and talk but you just need a moment to clear your thoughts so you don't say something you don't mean. Never storm out of an argument, never to return. Take 5-15 minutes to let your racing heart settle down, think about what the real root of the issue is, and how to approach the argument positively. It may be a good idea to bring up a reoccurring issue at another time when you are both calm and not in argument mode.
Remember that stress is a killer. There's no doubt about the physical harm stress can do to your body. This includes high
blood pressure, immune deficiency, anxiety attacks, insomnia and an increased risk of heart failure. It's best to goosfraba immediately when you start getting tense. It makes communicating easier and won't take a toll on your health. Generally, if you remain calm, the other party tends to calm down as well.
Control your posture and voice. I became very familiar with aggressive body language working as a security guard. You had to recognize the behavior so you could begin to diffuse the situation. Aggressive body language includes things like pointing, stop/talk-to-the-hand gestures, putting your hands on your hips, hooking your thumbs around your waistband/belt, standing head on/shoulder to shoulder with someone, crossed arms, sudden movements, squinting, glaring, sneering etc. It's best to talk at an angle. Still able to look at each other but not squared with them. Remember to be fluid and soft. Keep an even tone of voice. If you use hand gestures, keep your palms down. Pretend you're a grief counselor or the best grandmother in the world. Be sincerely concerned, receptive, and careful with the issue at hand. Remember that everyone deserves happiness and if something is in the way of theirs, that you are devoted to take in what they say and start problem solving/compromising.
Touch while you talk. You don't need to caress each other, just a simple hand on the knee/arm or a comforting hold of their hand will work. Nothing lets a person know that you care more than touching them. It'll let them know that you are not going to be aggressive but comforting. We connect on a deeper level when touch is involved too.
Avoid negative confrontation. Never use accusatory or aggressive words. Avoid words like "angry" or "mad" because this gives the person the idea that you are on the attack. Instead use "concerned" words like, "distressed" or "worried". Avoid "pointing" language and starting any sentences with "you". For example, "you are so lazy! You're manipulating me into doing everything!" Studies suggest that the most damaging way to argue is a sequence that has been termed the “four
horsemen”. The arguments starts with criticism, "you are lazy". The other person responds with defensiveness, “why do you have to jump down my throat? I work my ass off!” Which is responded with contempt, “you're such a baby”. The fourth response being silence. This structure has been a tip-off for the beginning of many divorces. Use softer words and start with "I". The popular sentence structure most psychologists suggest is, "I
acknowledge that you feel _____. When you ____, I feel ____." So change the aggressive sentence to a concerned one, "I acknowledge that you feel overworked. When you're sitting on the couch when I come home, I feel taken advantage of." Acknowledging what the person said first let's them know that you did take in and understand what they said. Theodore
Roosevelt said, “Nobody knows how much you know, until they know how
much you care.” Support and empathize with them first, then talk about your side. Do not drag other people into the fight. You should be able to solve any conflict amongst yourselves. "Maria says
you're lazy, too. I'll call her right now if you don't believe me." This
makes the person feel cornered and ganged up on. They will likely put a
wall up and shut you out leaving the problem unresolved.
Acknowledge when you are wrong. Our pride won't allow ourselves to admit when we are wrong, especially when being challenged. Realize that arguments are not about being right or wrong but about solving the issue. You being right isn't going to make the other person suddenly stop being upset. In fact, it makes matters worse because attempting to be the right one is an aggressive act in arguments, which makes the other person want to either try to be right themselves (ensuing hours of saying the same thing over and over again) or by going silent (resenting you inside) which is far worse.
Only speak in facts. It's just like being a reporter or being in court. Stick to the facts. The judge does not care what your opinions or assumptions are, they need to know truths. No one really knows what the intention of another is so stick to only what you have seen, done, heard, or felt. Opinions look like, "Lacy saw you talking to some woman at the store for half an hour. You came home late, too. I know you're cheating on me!" What Lacy said may not have been a fact. Jealous friends fabricate things all the time. Instead, stick with what you do know. Which is that they came home late and what emotions you're experiencing. Facts look like, "you came home late last night, I'm feeling insecure and afraid that you might cheat on me." If the person you're fighting with is only giving opinions ask them for their facts by asking how they feel. How can someone deny that you're not feeling sad or concerned? They can't, so right there you lose a lot of fuel to add to the argument fire.
Stay focused on the issue at hand. It is important to remain on the core topic and not trail off onto minor issues. Always speak in present or future tense. Never bring up the past to prove your point unless it's something like, "ever since you cheated on me 2 years ago, I haven't been able to shake off my insecurities." The kind of past I'm talking about is the mental list of every thing they did to upset you up until that point, "you didn't wash the dishes Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday." You can get the same message across by saying, "I'm feeling overwhelmed because I've been cleaning the dishes a lot."
Ask questions to find the root issue. Maybe something your partner said doesn't quite make sense. More than likely there's a back story. They might not even know what it is. Ask them questions when you don't quite understand what they're upset about. Here's an example from my own relationship a year after moving in with my significant other. "I have nothing of mine in the house." "What do you mean?" "I mean everything is yours and all I have is the entertainment center which you don't even like." "I don't understand, what are you feeling?" "I feel like it's your house, not our house." Root issue discovered.
Hurt feelings come first. When beginning to find a solution or a compromise, start by soothing the upset emotions first. Make them feel better by apologizing, empathizing or reassuring them that hurting their feelings was not your intention. Once they are feeling better, finding a compromise between differing opinions becomes easier to handle without escalating.
A little humor can go a long way. Laughing through issues can really help ease tension. Not all people are receptive to humor, though. It depends on how well you know the person's type of humor and how serious of an argument it is. Start with smaller disputes and experiment with larger ones. In the middle of a smaller fight with my spouse, I walked away and locked myself inside the bathroom. As she yelled at me to come out, I was secretly smearing makeup all over my face and put my hair up to one side to look ridiculous. I finally swung the door open with my clown-like face pretending to be angry, "what?!" She laughed and I hugged her. The situation diffused almost immediately and we were able to talk about the issue while grinning ear to ear.
Reach a compromise. Remember that you are playing for the same team. You both want each other to be comfortable and happy. Mutual give and take is the key to resolve many issues. "Maybe we can clean together so you know we're doing the same amount." Or, "doing the dishes is so boring for me. I don't mind doing the laundry, though. Maybe we can alternate chores every month." Try to resolve the problem as quickly as possible without rushing it. The sooner you can resolve the conflict, the less chance there is of it turning into a blow up fight.
Practice makes perfect. Don't get discouraged if you don't master your first argument. It takes time to know when to calm down, how to collect your thoughts, to pick your words carefully and be a good negotiator. Just don't go to bed angry.
Conquer yourself. Self-control is the cornerstone of any good argument. My wife is amazing with conflict. Someone will get in her face and scream at her. She will remain calm and ask about specific truths. You watch their anger melt into quiet politeness. They even become apologetic for how they handled themselves earlier. If you can just keep yourself calm and focused, half the battle is won.