Arguments are a normal and frustrating part of being in a relationship with someone. Everyone argues, some more effectively than others. When in a heightened, defensive state it is extremely difficult to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective.
A more effective manner of arguing or sharing difficult emotions with your partner comes from the Gottman model of couples therapy. The following approach will assist you in being able to present your feelings to your partner in a calmer, more open way, resulting in less escalation and hurt feelings.
Instead of criticizing broadly about an aspect of your partner or their habits that frustrates you, (think any statement with the words always or never in them) try to be as factually and emotionally specific to the issue in that moment. This is known as softening your start-up, where you share how you are feeling in that moment and what you need.
● Describe what you see and make complaint without judgment (I see that the house has not been picked up)
● Accept some responsibility (I forgot to ask earlier…)
● Use I statements to share a feeling (I feel stressed with guests coming soon)
● Say ‘please’ or ‘I would really appreciate it if…’ state a positive need, not something you don’t need. (I would really appreciate it if you could do the dishes)
● Keep your tone conversational and sincere
● Don’t let emotions build, share in the moment
If things escalate despite an attempt to have a soft-start up, working to voice repair attempts can help deescalate the tension. If you and your partner have never tried this before, you may even state that you are attempting to slow the intensity of the argument.
Repair attempt phrases include sharing that you feel blamed and asking politely to have your partner rephrase something. It may also include sharing that you want things to calm down, and asking for a hug or kiss, or that you’d like to start the conversation over. Also, working to get your partner to see you are appreciative of them and that you see their point, or stating that you love them can help slow escalation of an argument.
These attempts may feel awkward to use at first, but as you work on incorporating them they will feel effective.
Compromise is easily said and not something all couples find easy to provide. However, after working to soften the start up of an argument, and get on the same page via repair attempts, you and your partner should be in an emotionally more open place to consider one another’s
opinions and wants.Honestly considering your partner’s opinions and wants is the cornerstone of compromise, even if you don’t agree with them. Explore with your partner what you agree on or shared goals for how you want your marriage to work. From there discuss differences and preferences.
If you find this approach effective when applied to arguments in your relationship, it can be helpful to have support in strengthening skills and learning other approaches by working with a couples therapist who utilizes or modifies the Gottman approach.