Sometimes you can have toxic arguments, and it can be helpful to learn fair fighting rules. Be sure to practice and plan to implement the rules. Print this page out to be reminded of the rules when you need them most.
- Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset.
Are you truly angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you're doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.
- Discuss one issue at a time.
“You shouldn't be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don't care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We've all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.
- No degrading language.
Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is forgotten.
- Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.
“I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take responsibility for your feelings (no, you can't say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”).
- Take turns talking.
This can be tough, but be careful not to interrupt. If this fair fighting rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer allowing 1 minute for each person to speak without interruption. Don't spend your partner's minute thinking about what you want to say. Listen!
- No stonewalling.
Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to retreat into your shell and refuse to speak. This refusal to communicate is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset. If you absolutely cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out. Agree to resume the discussion later.
- No yelling.
Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse.
- Take a time-out if things get too heated.
In a perfect world we would all follow these rules 100% of the time, but it just doesn't work like that. If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem after everyone has cooled down.
- Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
There isn't always a perfect answer to an argument. Life is just too messy for that. Do your best to come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides). If you can't come to a compromise, merely understanding can help soothe negative feelings.
Remember, print out this page so you can be reminded of the rules. Put them into practice. If it gets tough, reach out to a health care professional. Many people encounter similar relationship issues and are looking for ways to solve them, just like you.