The words just slipped out. I could feel them clinking around in my head for moments before letting them loose: If you’re so mad at me then divorce me! Who needs this shit! And yet, divorce was the last thing on either of our minds. No issue, no fight, no behavior nor secret-thought has ever led to either of us wanting a divorce, and yet, there they were. Cold words that fell upon silence and couldn’t be reeled back even with the most sincerest regret. We were fighting about who knows what. But we were fighting long and hard with our emotions. Logic was long gone. It was late. We were weary. The words came out as a form of manipulation. But, I know this only in retrospect. They were designed as a challenge, not to receive the response, “OK, I will divorce you!” rather, to receive the response, “No! Why are we fighting? I love you and I’m sorry. I’ll never leave you.”
Sadly, manipulation rarely bestows upon you the hoped for outcome. If anything, it causes more trouble, especially if you’re arguing with someone who doesn’t subscribe to manipulation. Which is my husband’s case. And yet, there I was, reverting back to scrappy love-addict tactics that really only worked in my unhealthy relationship, and, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t even work then. And so, the night raged on. He became even angrier with me, which led to us sleeping in separate rooms, which led to us having a huge fight in the morning, which led to loads of crying and sadness and emotion and drama and shame and fear and…wait…Was I back to living that ‘ol life of chaos again?
Say it isn’t so.
OK, it isn’t so.
But, if I am to be realistic, arguments happen even in the best relationship. And we ultimately worked it out and went back to our happy selves. But my eyes opened to how much I needed to improve in this department. And I definitely realized, that night, I needed to change a few of my bottom line behaviors from here on out if I was going to fight fair and be a responsible, loving grown up. I especially needed to stop engaging in “love addict tactics.”
So, here’s my 8 points to help you argue with your partner in a healthier, more dignified way. But, a word of caution: this list is written for healthy relationships, or rather, for individuals who have each others’ best interest at heart. It’s not a way in which to negotiate or “fight fair” with an unhealthy individual whom you can’t seem to get a long with in any way. If you find yourself arguing incessantly, that’s another blog with different advice. And while you can (and should) certainly change and improve your arguing skills with darn near anyone, for your own sake, you may not get a matching result from your partner. If you do, this is a good sign! It means you are both moving in a similar direction and are equally working towards peace. If you don’t, it’s a sign that you are moving in separate directions and it may be time to reassess the value of the relationship.
Without further ado…
- Lose the drama: love addicts love drama. They say things and incite problems simply to drive the drama up to heightened levels. And for what reason? To feel alive? To release built up anger or emotions? Or simply because drama is something their chemistry craves. I don’t know. What I do know is that drama doesn’t equal dignity. Reassess your goals (in your head, while you’re arguing) by asking, what’s my hoped-for outcome? Is it self-centered? Is it to just yell and scream and blow off steam? Or is it to ultimately work towards peace with this person?
- Argue conscientiously: as hard as it may seem to switch off your impassioned, emotional brain and switch on your logical one, it can be done! I can clearly hear the rumblings of logic in my head when I am arguing, and in the past, I would often push those rumblings aside and opt for some crazy emotional response. Now, I try to focus. I take pauses. I breathe. And I use my logical brain as much as possible to get my point across. Arguing doesn’t always have to be hot and fiery. It can be approached from a level-headed, cool perspective. You’re in charge.
- Don’t manipulate: Saying or doing something to incite a response in your partner is manipulation. The classic example of this is the individual who screams, “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!” That’s manipulation and quite frankly, it’s evil. My example, above, though not as extreme, is still manipulation. You cannot control people, and what’s more, people don’t want to be controlled. That’s the goal of manipulation, and it will only get you so far. Remove it as a communication skill. It’s an unhealthy one.
- Be honest: I read somewhere that truth brings you closer to people, whereas lies keep you apart. For love addicts, as much as we crave love, we often fear intimacy, and so, we lie to keep a “safe” emotional distance between us and the object of our desire. If you’re in a healthy relationship, or simply changing the rules from unhealthy to healthy, you need to lose the lying and as scary as intimacy might seem, it’s your responsibly to yourself and to your partner to be honest.
- Listen: Arguing inevitably entails two people trying desperately to be heard, albeit screaming their point across to the other, trying to grab center-stage and win over the other. Fight fairly. That means give the other person a chance to get his or her point across, to speak his or her mind. Don’t sit there and think of all the things you plan to say when he’s done. Really listen. You’d like it if he listened to you, yes?
- Put yourself in her shoes: people are different. They want different things and they respond differently in different situation. No matter how much of the time you’re on the same page, you and your partner will approach things differently. And oftentimes, they will seem like aliens to you! As hard as I try, I sometimes can not understand why D does certain things. But if I love him, I have to try to put myself in his shoes and trust that he knows what he’s doing. This is very hard to do. But worth it.
- Keep it real and keep it in the now: How often in an argument do you find yourself dredging up the past? If you’re anything like me, a lot. Well, don’t do it unless it’s part of the current landscape of discussion. There’s no need. You’ve forgiven for past transgressions and there needs to be a clean slate. I’m not talking arguing over chronic abuse that continues to happen. If this is the case, why are you arguing to begin with. You need to get out. And speaking of getting out, you need to keep your arguments REAL. What I mean by that, is don’t argue from a fantasy perspective, rather a reality-based one. Are you trying to change your partner? Get him or her to do what you want him to do? Are you unsatisfied with his or her behavior, but, if he just stops doing this one thing, it’ll all be alright? This is called fighting for the fantasy. And it looks like shadow boxing. You’re merely swinging hits at your own shadow and will not accomplish anything, especially not changing him. When we argue it has to be from a personal perspective, not a “I know what’s best for you” perspective. You are not dating your son or daughter. You are dating a grown adult. Keep it real. Accept his or her reality.
- Bow out gracefully: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows! Take some cool down time to think it over. Apologize if you need to. I know I have a very hard time with this (I think I’m always right!), and so, apologizing feels like defeat. It’s really not. It’s deferring to the relationship, not always the other person. Letting go of a belief that you hold dear (as long as it’s not a value, big difference!), is tough. But, sacrifices and compromising are an occasional requirement of a healthy relationship. Ask yourself, what is the higher good? Being right, or sharing happiness between the two of you?