Arguments are part of any healthy relationship. They are unavoidable, and can actually be a positive aspect of your relationship. Arguments show that you care, are passionate, and are not scared to speak your point of view. But, not all arguments are equal. Some arguments can be destructive, even beyond repair.
Below you will find tips and tricks to understanding:
- Why you react the way you do
- How to prevent destructive fights
Understanding Your Body
Men and women’s bodies have different reactions during an argument. For one, men have a lower tolerance for arguments as their body floods quicker. They’re often more overwhelmed during an argument than a woman is. A woman has a longer period before they emotionally flood.
This is often why women want to continue to talk and men want to exit the conversation. This is your bodies fight, flight, fawn, or freeze response. Each person has a different response to a perceived threat. Knowing your response and your bodies reactions gives you an advantage. If you know when you are about to flood, you can take a pause before the argument gets ugly.
Tip 1: Know your bodies tolerance levels and response type to prevent destructive fights.
If you’re not on our Savvy Answers newsletter, I give out exercises I call “Relationship/Recovery Opportunities”.
Relationship Opportunity: Take out a pen and paper. Write down the last argument you had with your partner. Write it out in as much detail as possible. Notice as you write, when your body begins to tense up. When your heart rate rises. When you are clenching your jaws. Notice when that reaction kicks in as you describe the argument as vividly as possible.
Did you want to fight back, run away, please them, or freeze/submit?
Ask yourself if that’s been a long standing pattern in arguments?
Now that you know that, you have a better understanding of when your body begins to flood as well as which reaction you have.
Have your partner do this exercise as well, and then when you both are in a good place, you can either discuss this verbally or in a letter to one another. This will open the door to understanding each other’s experiences/responses. Which means, you’re better prepared next time a disagreement comes up.
Knowing Your Communication Presence
Every person has a different way they communicate. Some people talk a lot, others are quiet, others will swear on a daily basis and some never utter a swear.
There are many ways that you communicate to your partner and others. Your communication presence can even shift depending on the person you’re talking to. For this article, we are focusing on your communication presence with your partner.
Tip 2: Understand your communication presence and the impact it has on others when communicating with you to prevent destructive fights.
Relationship Opportunity: Take out a pen and paper. Write out how others have described you in a conversation. Did they say you’re enthusiastic? Did they take notice of how soft-spoken you are? Write down all the characteristics that you and others describe your communication. Now, circle all the descriptors you feel to be true when talking with your partner in a normal non-threatening conversation. Next, highlight the descriptors that fit when an argument arises.
If you want to take it another step, you can have your partner also circle and highlight the descriptors to see if they match.
Once you know the presence of your communication, you are better equipped to be self-aware during the next argument.
Knowing Your Communication Pattern
Presence is different than your pattern. Presence is about how you vocalize in conversations. Patterns are about re-occurring ways you vocalize that reflect what you often saw growing up. I use pattern versus style because a pattern is something you’ve fallen into. A style is a conscious choice. From your patterns, you can consciously develop your communication style.
The 8 Communication Patterns
- Passive Aggressive
We all know this person in our lives. They don’t hold anything back. They say it as it is. They don’t spare feelings. They are blunt. They don’t hide their feelings or perspective. They say what they want to say, even when they know the other party might not want to hear it. This style might be offensive to some and welcomed by others.
This pattern is the opposite of direct. People with this pattern may hide their intentions, feelings, and perspectives. They won’t tell you they’re upset, but may use other ways to show this. They may let out a sigh, or cross their arms versus say, “I’m upset with you.” This pattern can be exhausting for the other party as they never know where they stand with you.
We all know the person who you wish would care during a conversation. The indifferent person often won’t share their opinion during a conversation. It’s hard to get to know them as a person. They will often shrug or say “I don’t care, whatever you want is fine.” This communication pattern can be difficult to engage with. You often feel alone in the conversation with them.
People with this pattern often feel powerless. They may seem to be passive and easy going during a conversation, but later their anger may come out in other ways. They may gossip about you, or they may tell you one thing and do the opposite behind your back. When someone has a passive aggressive pattern, broken trust occurs. This leads to a damaged relationship of uncertainty and anxiety.
Assertive communication is the healthiest pattern someone can have. This is the pattern you want to make your default style of communicating. People who have this pattern or style often have healthy self-esteem. They know their worth, and they are not afraid to ask for people to respect their boundaries. Assertive communicators often have great boundaries and a sense of self versus others. They respect their own needs while being aware of other’s. When talking to someone who is assertive you know exactly where they stand and what they expect.
These are the people pleasers of the world. They will put other’s needs and wants above their own. They struggle with knowing that their needs and wants are equally important. Their self-esteem is often low, and can feel they don’t have equal rights. These people will avoid conflict at all cost. They also struggle to take ownership of choices and decisions. Others may find it hard to communicate with this pattern or they may take advantage of the submissive person.
It’s about competition with this communication pattern. If you use the aggressive pattern, the other person’s seen as competition. Someone to conquer. You may feel superior to the other person, and that you deserve more and have more rights than the other person. Often this pattern is loud, critical, and threatening to the other person. Intimidation, bullying, belittling are all apart of the repertoire of this pattern. The person on the opposite end can feel dehumanized, humiliated, and less than.
This is a cold, calculating, and planned pattern of communication. These people are all about controlling others. Guilt is the tool of the trade and they want to play on your emotions to get what they want out of you. Often you will see this pattern (or style) in Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sociopaths. If it’s a true pattern and the person is not aware of this they may be struggling with basic relational skills. They may have not grown up with a healthy role model and may be mimicking what they saw growing up.
Tip 3: Know your pattern, and choose a healthy style you want to achieve with practice to prevent destructive fights.
Relationship Opportunity: Take out a pen and paper. Write down the pattern(s) you feel most fit. Have your partner do the same. See if they line up. Then choose which of the patterns you wish to make your style of communication moving forward. Once you choose a style, the goal is to be mindful of how you communicate with others. Catch any negative patterns out as they happen in conversation. Once the negative pattern’s been called out, say, “what I meant to say was…” and choose the communication style you’re aiming to achieve.
Know Your World Lens’
How you see the world is often how you communicate. You may be a scientist and approach conversations through a scientific lens. You may be a coach or therapist and approach communication through a psychological lens.
For instance, when my husband and I communicate, we each know that my husband approaches topics from a logic/scientific lens first. I approach communication from a psychological/emotional lens first.
You can see how we could fall into arguments if we didn’t know this about each other. Logic versus emotion don’t always mix in a conversation. Especially when you don’t realize they don’t see the world the way you see it.
Tip 4: Knowing you and your partner’s perspectives can save you from having destructive fights.
Relationship Opportunity: Take out a pen and paper. If you are truly unaware of the perspectives you hold, you can ask others how they perceive you. If you have an idea, write down the perspectives you feel fit how you approach conversations with others.
Once you have those written out, try to see if you can find your “default” perspective when approaching conversations. What is your fall back?
Once you’ve done this exercise, invite your partner to do this exercise, and then share with each other.
What’s Your Definition?
This is something my husband found out years ago when we were missing each other’s needs. At this point in our lives I was a new stay at home mom, and my husband was off at work for long hours. Through out the day we each texted “I miss you!”
Now, what does I miss you mean? If you take it at surface value it means you want to be around them. But, underneath “I miss you” is an unspoken need.
We each said, “I miss you,” and when my husband would get home, instead of us being happy to see each other, we’d be fighting within 10 minutes.
Why was that?
Because, “I miss you,” meant “hug me when I come through the door” to my husband.
“I miss you,” meant “I can’t wait for you to take over so I can rest,” to me.
Needless to say, I didn’t hug him when he came through the door, and he didn’t take over and help with our son.
It was weeks of fighting, distance, and resentment before we had the conversation about how we “clearly” didn’t miss each other.
Once we realized what “I miss you” meant to each of us, we stopped fighting. We then proceeded to assess the rest of our communication phrases we used daily.
Tip 5: Look for hidden needs/expectations in your communication to prevent destructive fights.
Relationship Opportunity: Take out a pen and paper. Write down key phrases you and your partner say daily to one another.
What does each phrase mean to you?
Is there a hidden expectation or need you are asking for through this phrase?
Once you and your partner have done this exercise, share with one another.
What is your body saying that your words aren’t? Most communication happens through body language. While words are important, it’s the words with the body language that can convey deeper and subtle meanings.
When you talk with your partner are you faced away? Are you on your phone? Are your arms or legs crossed? Did you roll your eyes?
Tip 6: Be mindful of what your body is telling your partner to prevent destructive fights.
Strategies In The Moment
It’s all easy said and done when you’re reading this when you’re calm. But, once you’re in the heat of the moment, it’s harder to implement what you’ve learned.
Below are some strategies for when an argument arises:
It’s Okay To Walk Away
You can always “pause” the disagreement. When I work with my clients that struggle with screaming matches, I tell them about my technique “the pause button.”
This Pause Button is used when one party feels they are about to flood, they say, “Pause.”
The person who called the pause button then has 24 hours, 48 hours if agreed upon by both parties, to start the conversation back up.
It is the person who called Pause’s responsibility to come back to the conversation. Pause is not a tool to be used to avoid the conversation, but rather as a tool to have both parties calm down before addressing the topic again.
Now, for the person who had “Pause” called on them, you have to respect that a pause is needed. You cannot follow your partner around the house demanding to continue to the conversation. You must respect the pause.
This tool is extremely effective when both parties respect the tool. If one or the other does not uphold their end (to start the conversation or to respect not talking about it) then this tool won’t be effective.
This tool is about taking a break, but also demonstrating respect for each other.
Call It Out
If you started off arguing about long work hours and suddenly the conversation is about something that happened over a year ago, call it out. If there’s unresolved issues about that other thing, it’s for another conversation. Stay on the topic of long-work hours.
Remember that you and your partner are a team! You guys are moving through life together, supporting one another, and ideally becoming the best versions of yourselves together. Whatever the issue that comes up, remembering that you are not enemies, but teammates can make all the difference. Even saying, “We are on the same team” before discussing the difficult topic can help remind you both to keep that mentality.
Assess Your Timing
Timing of the difficult conversation is key. If you try to bring up a topic that could end up as a fight right when your partner got home from a long day of work, that is not setting you and your partner up to succeed.
Now, these are not every single strategy out there, but are some good ones to get you started! If you still need more, you can check out the following articles:
If you loved this article, please share, like, and comment your own strategies and stories about how you’ve improved your communication in your relationship!
Also, if you loved this style, then you’d truly enjoy my Savvy Answers newsletter!