Whether you have been in your current relationship for a couple of weeks or for a couple of years, chances are if you haven’t already, you will soon find yourself in a disagreement with your partner. When this happens your initial inclination may be to win the argument at all costs (after all, you are right and your partner is wrong). Avoid this inclination, it will not serve your relationship well. When you are determined to be right and to win you are forcing your partner into a losing position, he has to be a loser. Losing not only affects your partner in a negative way, it also negatively impacts and weakens the relationship.
When you force your partner to lose, you will lose in the process. So how can you disagree and resolve the disagreement without being or creating a loser?
Set Ground Rules
It is best to set a few ground rules prior to a disagreement developing. When you and your partner are both in a good spirits and are enjoying each other’s company take some time to identify your triggers and set rules to avoid pushing each other’s trigger buttons. It is important that your ground rules are specific to the two of you and that they are agreed upon without coercion. Forcing your expectations or rules on to your partner without her involvement or agreement will not have the desired effect. Your ground rules might include:
- No name calling
- Stay focused on the disagreement at hand, not a disagreement from two months ago
- Give space when requested
- No interrupting
- No yelling
- No door slamming
Honor Your Partner’s Process
Despite how in love and how in sync you and your partner may be, there is a high probability that you approach and process a disagreement in different ways. You may be the type to talk the issue out and process it in the moment. While you partner on the other hand, might need his space and chooses to leave the situation in order to gather his thoughts and calm down. There is no right answer regarding which method of processing a disagreement is best. Instead of trying to convince your partner that your way is better, learn about and accept your partner’s process and then set ground rules on how to compromise and blend your differing process styles so that you both feel heard and respected during a disagreement.
Listening seems like a fairly self explanatory concept, however it is often one that gets forgotten or misplaced once tempers rise, especially when you are determined to win the argument. Remember that when you are fixated on what you want to say next or on proving your next point, you are no longer able to effectively listen to what your partner is saying. To genuinely listen to your partner you need to get out of your own head, shut your mouth, open your ears, look at your partner, and receive the words and the message that she is sharing with you. Often times once your partner feels heard and understood she will be more open to listening to you and reaching a resolution instead of going over and over the same points time after time.
The concept of respect may seem like another no brainer and yet you may find yourself engaging in some rather disrespectful body language and/or words as your disagreement progresses. While it is important to choose your words carefully and to be kind and respectful with the words you choose, it is also important to be respectful with your demeanor and what you don’t say. The old adage, ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it’ speaks to this point. You can choose the most appropriate and respectful words you can think of, but it you say them sarcastically or follow them with an eye roll they have lost all respectfulness and have become hurtful. This is also true for the silent treatment. When you refuse to speak to your partner you are giving him the message that he is not worth your time or the effort it would take to speak to him. This is an extremely hurtful and damaging message and can quickly destroy even a strong relationship.
Staying focused highlights the importance of staying in the moment and on topic. This means when you are disagreeing about whose turn it is to do the dishes, you do not bring up the time four months ago when your partner looked at another man while the two of you were out to dinner. When every past wrong or indiscretion is fair game to bring up in the current argument it leaves you both confused as to what you are arguing about and it significantly decreases the likelihood that anything is going to get resolved. In order to resolve a disagreement or an argument you need to have a clear picture of what you are upset about and what it will take to be less upset. This is not easily done when you or your partner are arguing about several different instances at the same time.
Be prepared to have disagreements, arguments, fights (call them what you want) throughout your relationship, to expect not to would be an impossible expectation. But by changing some of your fighting behaviors you can begin to have disagreements without annihilating your partner or your relationship, you can grow and strengthen the relationship through your ability to resolve a disagreement, and you can help your partner to feel supported instead of humiliated.
When you belittle, disrespect, and force your partner into a losing position the relationship will suffer. When you build your partner up through compromise, respect, understanding, and love your relationship can grow.
Amber groves is a marriage and family counselor and infertility specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. In her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler.