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Long Islanders are good at arguing. Whether it is over the Islanders versus the Rangers, or pizza versus sushi, we are not shy in giving our opinions. But what about with those we love, the people – usually our partners – with whom we are closest with, and live with every day?
Do we know how to argue in a constructive way with our closest people? Think back to that last big argument you had with a loved one or partner. How did it end? Was it resolved? Did both of you feel that some closure had been had and come out smiling?
When Arguments Cross Over
Sometimes we are not really arguing about the issue at hand. An argument was heard between a girlfriend and boyfriend about her habit of stealing his French fries. From there it led to a slightly more heated discussion of the disproportionate way that things were paid for in the relationship. I can assure you – that argument was not about the French fries!
And we all do this. We have a sort of meta-argument that will surface from time to time within the context of something else:
- Perhaps one partner feels resentful that they are responsible for more of the tasks at home.
- Perhaps the other feels the burden of having to earn more.
- Perhaps both suffer from the perceived lack of support and encouragement of the other.
But that’s probably not how we have phrased our feelings. Instead, we probably lashed out, or even kept it all bottled inside, seething with unnamed feelings.
How Do We Know If We Are Arguing Correctly?
Here are some ways to tell:
- How long was your argument? If it’s over about twenty minutes, it probably isn’t the French Fries!
- Were words like “always” or “never” used? For instance, “you never pay for our meals!” That’s a clear indicator that something else is at play, some built-up anger that has not been resolved.
- Either person brings up something that happened months or weeks ago.
- Are you catastrophizing and making a small issue into a much larger one, as in “You didn’t pay for this meal. You don’t put as much energy into this relationship as I do.”
- Are you mind reading? Do you subscribe motives and thoughts to the other person’s actions without giving them a chance to tell you how they are thinking? “You didn’t pay for this. That means you don’t really love me.”
If any of these sound familiar, don’t worry.
Healthy, Constructive Arguing Can Be Learned!
How? Start with something easy, a technique you may even have heard of. “I-messages” are a way to phrase your feelings that make sure that the blame is not placed on the other person when speaking.
- “I am hurt when you come home late. I feel as if you have not understood my need to go to a yoga class after a long day with the children, and it makes me feel angry and resentful.”
What’s important in the response is another technique from therapy, and that is reframing what the other person has said (this works great anywhere, especially in stressful work situations!).
For instance, in this example, the partner could respond with:
- “I understand that you are feeling resentful and angry when I come home late, that you feel like I have not taken your needs seriously. Does that encompass your thoughts, and is there anything I have forgotten?”
How much more pleasant is that example than the one that could have happened in the same scenario? A lot less of the angry glances and annoyed tones, for sure!
Of course, it’s best if both parties understand that the way that you argue is much more important than what is argued about, and that both of you are willing to learn some new ways to gain a healthier relationship.
Many couples find that it’s hard to start this learning process on their own, and they need a little help and coaching. At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we counsel couples, families, and anyone who argues (cough – everyone!) on these constructive techniques.
With the help of a compassionate and trusted therapist, it becomes easier and easier to both assert yourself while still being respectful and loving towards your loved ones in an argument. And isn’t that what we all want?