Post No.: 0495
One of the silliest things to do is expect other people to be psychic! If you have a grievance then talk about it candidly and clearly (so not in coded hints) and with the person it concerns (so not behind their backs to your friends as gossip). And do so as soon as possible rather than letting the problem eat away or build up inside of you until you cannot take any more. If something is bothering you – to begrudge someone for something you’ve not explicitly told them about isn’t fair. You might expect your ‘soul mate’ to be able to 100% reliably read your mind but they can’t, and you cannot 100% reliably read their mind either.
Successful couples allow each other room to complain. In other words, they allow each other to talk about even the trivial issues in a civilised way instead of storing them up until they become a big deal. (This strategy is good for all kinds of relationships, including in international diplomacy too.) It’s like ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ – so don’t go to bed angry with each other.
Therefore a low negativity threshold can be counter-intuitively better than a highly tolerant attitude because then one won’t let small things build up for later. It’s better than bottling things in then being resentful about bottling things in. It’s better to calmly persist and softly but unambiguously remind than to give the occasional explosive outburst. (Of course, if you both have a lot of major things to complain about each other then you might have to question whether you are both right for each other?!)
The best way to approach quarrels is to forget about winning or losing them and to focus on sharing views and ideas, being sensitive to the context, humanising the other person and being prepared to listen as well as talk. Make it clear that you just want to discuss something first – not decide something yet. Be open and honest, even if this reveals vulnerability, and be open to change and be willing to change if necessary.
During heated quarrels, couples often attack or avoid/stonewall each other. A better method is to confide, which involves letting the other person know that you’re worried about raising a particular point or issue, or that you recognise some of the weaknesses of your own arguments or some strengths or at least reasonableness in the other person’s points of view. Confide in them and let them confide in you. This style enables couples to disagree while keeping it collaborative.
Tell him/her how you are feeling rather than arrive with guns blazing with accusations or judgements. Say something like, “I feel exhausted at this time of day every day and I really want to be able to finish this book I started a month ago” instead of saying something like, “You’re lazy and don’t do anything in this house!” Some people dislike it though when others talk so indirectly, such as by hinting, “Don’t you think the heating should be turned a little higher?” (for which the answer could legitimately be, “No”!) when really they’d be far clearer by straightforwardly stating, “I would really like the heating turned up a little higher.”
So explicitly ask your partner to help you out with something if that’s what you want, and express how much it’d mean to you for them to do it. Some people could learn to talk more directly while others could learn to read between the lines more. (However, if asked, “Does my bum look big in this?” – don’t give a straight answer unless you genuinely think it looks okay! In such situations, you could ask them what they think first?) Don’t make your request cryptic yet don’t turn it into a blame game. Remember that the outcome you want is cooperation from your partner, not to win an argument over them. There’s no point in feeling like you’ve won a dispute but nothing practically changes or the relationship gets more fractious.
Some people employ passive aggression because they hate or fear direct confrontation. Or they might expect other people to be able to hear them when they try to tell them something from the other side of the house(!) But if you want to be heard and it’s important then get eye-to-eye contact first, or at least get acknowledgement that what you said was heard and understood afterwards, rather than assuming these things then saying, “I told you before to…” (That’s why phrases like, “Roger” are used in radio communications when communications are not face-to-face – the assumption whenever hearing silence is that a message has not been received rather than has. And the reason why phrases like, “Over” are used is that, with regular walkie-talkies, only one person can speak down a channel at a time thus you should signal when you’ve finished talking so that other people can talk.) This could save a lot of quarrels later about who said what, forgot what, tried to ignore whom or didn’t make something clear!
How a couple resolves or diffuses quarrels or disagreements – the setting out of the agenda, the arguing then subsequent negotiation phases – usually reveals how long the relationship will last. Display more positive emotions and less negative ones at the very beginning of a marital conflict discussion. It’s not so much about whether a couple has quarrels or not but rather how – in particular how quarrels are raised. Have a ‘softened start-up’, as in gently enter a dispute. Therefore don’t worry about having quarrels as they are pretty much inevitable when two people are living together. Being so close every day will mean compromises are sometimes unavoidable (hence why many couples have experienced more quarrels during these pandemic lockdowns). What to look out for are the intensity, frequency and chiefly destructiveness of them.
Never criticise the person since this tends to convey a global defect about them. Instead, be specific in your complaint since this doesn’t suggest a defective personality characteristic i.e. criticise the ideas or behaviours presented, never the person or their core beliefs. So try not to make your critical comments personal. Try not to say that they’re wrong in those words. Life is rarely ever that black-or-white. Don’t put him/her down. Stay calm, listen and show that you’re listening. If your partner does criticise you, don’t be defensive – and don’t accuse someone of being defensive either because this is defensive behaviour in itself. Accept their feelings, views and influence. You don’t have to validate them but do listen with your full attention. Don’t escalate their stance by rejecting their views – be more open to their influence if they have a point.
Try to look at things from your partner’s perspective first. Then calmly, and as objectively as possible, state how the issue looks like from your standpoint. State how you feel about it then suggest a solution and express why you think it’s a good one i.e. because it’s a ‘win-win’ solution that has something in it for them too. Focus on the solutions, not the problems. Find the common grounds and build momentum starting with the things you both agree with. Persistence and tenacity in search for a solution that considers both people’s needs is fundamental. The key is to analyse relationships, of any type, from the standpoint of every single stakeholders’ goals (i.e. their and our needs, desires and obstacles) in order to gain a deeper understanding of a conflict and to find fair ‘win-win’ solutions. Woof!
Get into the habit of saying, “Yes and…” rather than, “Yes but…” The ‘but’ cancels out or diminishes whatever’s just been said before that word. Use more ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ words (which in this context the latter can sound aggressive and interrogative) too.
Bad things to do are to criticise, be defensive, hold contempt or stonewall (withdraw to somewhere where you cannot see or hear each other). Instead, try to soothe conflict with a bit of humour to reduce the emotional intensity during a row. (You could perhaps even both try holding a pencil inbetween your teeth without letting your lips touch it whilst trying to argue!) An appropriate and appropriately-timed gentle joke that cracks a smile in the middle of a fight can be one of the best ways to defuse the intensity of it. But it requires a lot of social intelligence to do because, in the heat of an argument, we might be too blinkered in wanting to win an argument to care about the repercussions of it. Keep each other cool and composed whilst addressing the problem.
But do note that if you show discontent when your partner is expressing negative emotions towards you then that’s better than if you show affection for it i.e. it’s better to take these negative emotions seriously than say, “You’re so cute when you’re angry.”
Certainly don’t take external problems out on each other. Try not to bring the stresses of your work life into your home life. (Post No.: 0468 was about how to better balance your work and home life.) Solve things calmly and amicably. However, being a pushover when you have your own needs in this mutual partnership is not healthy either so be assertive to stand up for yourself without being aggressive. Don’t incite or express anger – people will close off, stop listening and become impatient. It’ll make your partner uncooperative or afraid and angry too. Anger only tends to makes things worse when it’s directed at people.
…Then once a quarrel is over – it’s over. Don’t bear a grudge or overspill the issue into the future. Rather than sulk – forgive and move on without contempt. Forgiveness is much better than merely brushing an issue aside by saying, “Let’s never talk about this again” because such things can remain simmering in the background as resentments and one day suddenly resurface again. So resolve any hang-ups, then truly move on.
Overall, engage when it’s positive, don’t overemphasise the negatives and brush things off if possible. Sometimes you’ll need to just keep on voicing about the trivial points – yet tact and discretion are far more important than instant confrontation every single time. So draw less attention to conflict issues unless they’re genuinely serious ones that you cannot ignore or let be, or ones that can build in annoyance over time. Allow your partner to gently vent out in relative safety but try not to escalate or draw focus on your differences of opinions. Sometimes all you need is to let them voice off without you giving a counter-opinion or personal suggestion – just listen without judgement. Don’t always engage in an in-depth analysis of a marital difficulty because this could make them seem larger and deeper than they really are – keep these in proper perspective. So do attend to but zip through the bad stuff – concentrate on and savour the furry good and merry times instead! Get deep about the good times and good things rather than the bad – keep that side light. You need to overall associate each other with happy emotions!
So focus on each other’s positives and try to brush off the faults. Aggrandise your union. Think highly of your partner and the best of your partnership. Believe that you can find no better as kindred spirits with them. People in love don’t always fight – they are together as one and any fights are mainly against the world, not against each other!
There are evidently a few tricky balancing acts when handling quarrels but if you are a couple who genuinely listens to each other and allows each other to safely speak your minds – you’ll become more in tune with each other to find that right balance for you two as a couple.
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