10 Skills for Less Arguments

Couple disagreeing without an argument.

I don’t know of anyone that got into a relationship specifically to get into an argument. But sometimes relationships seem to end up in one argument after another. Here are 10 tips you can use to have fewer arguments.

What To Do to Prevent Arguments

1) Know Why You Need to Talk

Difficult conversations need to happen. Understanding why you need to talk with your partner will make the conversation easier. Don’t limit yourself to “they made me angry”. Well, yeah, that happens. Why did their actions make you angry? Did you feel disrespected? Unimportant? Devalued? Those are the things that need to be talked about.

2) Start the Argument with the End in Mind

Knowing why you need to have the discussion is a good first step. Take it further. What do you want the outcome to be? Having this goal in mind will keep things focused in a positive direction. You will be more flexible in finding solutions.

3) Use “I” Statements

Discussions quickly turn to arguments when one – or both – feel attacked. When we focus on what the other person is doing – instead of the impact to us – we might be shutting down the conversation. Instead of talking about them i.e. “You… you… you…”. Instead, use “I” statements. If the issue is taking out the trash, try something like “I don’t have any room to through out ABC if the trash isn’t taken out every day.”

4) Use a Gentle “Warm” Opening to Discussions

John Gottman – an internationally recognized marriage therapist – recommends using “When, I feel, I need“. Start by generally describing the event (bonus if you use point #3 above!). Immediately discuss the personal impact to you (this is easier with step #1). Finally, discuss what you need in a positive way from your partner (easier with step #2 from above). Using the trash as an example: “When I get home and the trash isn’t taken out, I feel frustrated because I can’t through out ABC. I also don’t feel listened to or valued. I need to know I am important to you. One of the ways you can show me I am important is by taking out the trash when it is full.”

5) Focus on the Positives

When you last bought a car, you probably noticed a lot of other cars of a similar color or make and model. That’s because our brains are wired to see more of what we are used to seeing. When all that we can see are the negatives in our partner, we need to shift our focus. Try looking for 5 things each day to compliment each other on! You can even do this during tense arguments. Intentionally look for the positive in your partner and let them know what you are thankful for. This can help shift the tone of the argument.

6) Take a Break When Arguments Heat Up

If an argument is heating up. Frustration is mounting. You don’t feel like you are getting anywhere. Well, you probably aren’t getting anywhere. When emotions run high, take a 15-30 minute break. If needed, go for a walk or run. This can help relieve tension, stress, and re-start the conversation in a healthy way. Just don’t leave your partner wondering what happened. Agree to resume the conversation when you get back.

What Not to Do In Arguments

7)Criticism Blows Up Arguments

I don’t know that many people who loves to have their faults pointed out to them. Doing so in a disagreement makes the other person feel like they have to defend themselves. Criticism also tends to focus on small details instead of the personal impact of behavior.

Instead of criticism, try explaining the personal impact of the behavior.

8) Defensiveness Escalates Arguments

No one likes to be wrong. It is often our first reaction to defend what we did. The escalates discussions into arguments because the other partner feels unheard or that their concerns aren’t important. Also, no one really cares. Think about it. Of course you have a reason for what you did. Otherwise you would have done something different. What your partner cares about isn’t that you had a good reason for it. Your partner does care, however, about the personal impact that decision had.

Instead of defending yourself, connect with your partner’s emotions and help them feel heard. Work together to find a workable resolution.

9) Contempt Breaks Down the Conversation

I can’t think of a single time feeling less than someone else is encouraged. When we have contempt for someone, we treat them like we are better than them. And they know it, too. Contempt in a relationship can lead to the other partner feeling like they can do no right. So why should they try to have a productive discussion? Or work to improve the relationship.

Instead of showing contempt, try telling your partner things they are doing well while using the skills from #4.

10) Stonewalling Increases Frustration

Feeling trapped in a discussion can leave people looking for a way out. Sometimes, they way out they find is to stonewall: changing the topic or refusing to engage in the discussion. Stonewalling can lead to stuffing the emotions from the conversation… only to resurface in bigger ways later. Stonewalling can also lead to immense frustrations by one or both partners when significant underlying concerns are never addressed. Stonewalling can also lead to feeling unheard, devalued, or trapped. Sometimes the discussion may take several days or weeks, but it does need to be worked through.

Instead of stonewalling: take a short break (see point #6) then discuss whey the discussion is difficult.

So, Now What?

Implementing these skills will move arguments from disastrous to productive – if both people work at it. Give these skills a try! If it feels awkward or difficult, that’s ok! Just like learning a bike, new skills in talking can take some time to feel natural.

Sometimes, trying to improve communication on our own is not enough and we need outside help. Couples counseling can be a great way to help move difficult conversations forward. If you are feeling trapped in your relationship, reach out! Our counselors in Ephrata, PA can help!

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