Everyone argues, but not everyone argues well. Constructive arguing is something of an artform, and sometimes a good argument that’s handled well can even help to improve a couple's relationship. But when things go wrong, disagreement can spiral into entrenched arguments. These types of interactions can have a toxic impact and can delay resolution of underlying issues that could otherwise help a couple to find a way of moving forward.
Penny Mansfield is co-director of the relationship support charity OnePlusOne. Katharine Landells is a partner in the Family Law team at Withers. With many years' experience between them dealing with relationships at close quarters, they are well placed to offer tips to help you argue well. These tips are not to help you win the argument but rather to help you reach a compromise or a solution together.
Try to stay calm
Recognise the impact of your own emotions on how you communicate. If you’re not calm, your emotions may have got the better of you, and you’ll find it hard to conduct a reasoned argument. Take a deep breath, give yourself a pep talk, or count to 10. Do what you need to do to regulate those feelings so you can stay calm and explain your point of view.
A tennis match of criticisms and blame is exhausting and hard to resolve. This approach polarises the positions of each side and sets up a battle. If you recognise that this is happening, it’s time to disengage.
Listen actively and patiently
If you don't listen you won't be able to see where the other person is coming from. And, when we don't feel heard, we get frustrated and annoyed. Notice the other person’s body language and try to pick up on what isn't being said as much as what is. Even if you don't agree, acknowledging you have heard can be a big step in making positive progress.
Speak for yourself
If something has upset you, focus on your feelings rather than criticising the act. Starting with, ‘I feel…’ can be less confrontational than saying, ‘You did this or that’. Don't assume the other person knows how you feel and don't make assumptions about what they are thinking.
Speak clearly about what you want and how you would like things to be like in the future. Try to resist telling your ex what they need to do differently – instead, focus on what is best for the children and how each of you can co-operate to make that happen.
Focus on points you can agree
Reaching a compromise doesn't mean you've lost ground. Look for the points you can agree on, and take a positive step forward to tackle the problem. Recognise that the best solution is one that both of you can commit to and make work.
Try to see why their solution makes sense to them
It's often easier said than done, particularly in the middle of an argument, but, if you can see why the other person's point of view makes sense to them, you'll be one step closer to working out how to resolve the issue.
Apologise when you’re in the wrong
Be prepared to admit when you have overreacted or misunderstood. Showing respect creates a better environment for cooperation. It may even stop the argument in its tracks.
Acknowledge their feelings
Make small gestures to show that you acknowledge their feelings. Give your full attention to show that you respect their views, even if you can’t agree.