How to Argue Less: 3 Ways of Preventing Arguments
In my counseling sessions, couples often ask me: “How to argue less?” They want me to teach them specific steps and tools so that they can manage their disagreements in ways that will not be destructive to their relationships. For those of you who heard my interview with Allison Rimland, LPC at Thrive Family Services, you might already know a few things about communication skills. Communication techniques work, at times—mainly for couples that feel generally pretty happy with each other. For those who argue a lot and don’t feel emotionally safe with one another, communication techniques will not make much difference. In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy that I provide, I work with couples on teaching them (experientially) “How to argue less?” by following these 3 ways of preventing arguments:
3 Ways of Preventing Arguments:
- BE AVAILABLE AND SHOW UP FOR YOUR PARTNER. Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, created this great acronym: ARE you there for me?
- EMOTIONALLY ENGAGED
Next time, when your partner comes back from work upset, ask yourself how can YOU be there for him/her?
- ACCESSIBILITY has to do with being able to open up to your partner. Think about what may help your partner open up to you. Most likely, giving him/her your advices or lectures around how to handle the issue with work will not help. Instead, focus on creating a safe place for your partner to get his/her upset feelings out—validate and reflect his/her feelings without trying to fix them. Listen to your partner’s deepest concerns, and give your partner priority.
- RESPONSIVENESS is about being there for your partner when he/she needs you. Let’s use the same example. Your partner comes back from work upset. You don’t know what to do with the upset feeling. You decide to leave the room or get busy. That might be a cue for your partner that “you don’t care” because if you did, you would stay and try to comfort him/her. If you practice RESPONSIVENESS you might want to stay with your partner’s upset moment. Remember that even though your partner is upset, in those very moments, he/she really is longing for closeness, reassurance, and support.
- EMOTIONAL ENGAGMENT is about being emotionally present. Really listen to your partner. What is he/she worried about? Are there some softer and more vulnerable emotions under the upset? Maybe there is sadness that he/she was disrespected at work … maybe there is fear that he/she will get fired. Stay with these emotions and try to feel them with your partner to create a “felt sense of understanding.” Pay attention to how that experience impacts you. After your partner feels your presence, it will be your turn to talk about your feelings around the situation.
- BLAME THE CYLCE FOR EVERYTHING, NOT YOUR PARTNER
- One of my biggest objectives when providing EFT couples therapy is to help couples understand their cycle. An easy way of understanding that is to imagine an infinity loop. One partner’s unmet needs and longings cause him/her to feel emotions such as sadness, fear, or hurt. These emotions are often covered up by anger, frustration, or upset. That further shapes that partner’s perceptions and thinking which causes him/her to take an action (blame, leave, argue more). All of that triggers the other partner to having the very same process. It is a pattern! We impact each other a lot because we love each other. Every couple out there has a pattern or a cycle that plays out differently depending on the circumstances. Next time you argue, think about the cycle causing your argument, not your partner. You may even say: “Wait a minute, I think the cycle is taking over this conversation…I hate when that happens. I hate when we get disconnected this way. Let’s start all over again….”
- REPAIR THE ARGUMENT EFFECTIVELY SO IT HAPPENS LESS
I always tell the couples I see that the way we measure progress in therapy is not by having less fights. Arguments and disagreements are a natural part of any relationship. What matters more than anything is the type of REPAIR work that we do after the fight. So how do you repair an argument effectively?
- Repair it quickly. Don’t wait hours or days before reaching out to your partner.
- Own your part. Do it without blaming.
- Talk about your softer feelings. This is hard to do; however, talking about your softer feelings will likely pull your partner closer to you.
These 3 ways of “How to argue less?” take a lot of practice to learn and implement. I have seen couples succeed at it! It is possible! If you are struggling with arguing too much and need help, call me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marta Kem, LMFT provides Couples & Marital Therapy/ Counseling in the Denver and North Denver Metro Area (including but not limited to Denver, Northglenn, Westminster, Thornton, Lafayette, Louisville, Broomfield). She uses Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with couples. Call Marta @ 303.898.6140 for a Free 30 min. Consultation!