As with many things, learning how to argue properly with someone you love is a skill you can develop. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Many couples struggle with learning to fight fairly. Here are some ground rules:
• The first one to get mad loses. You really can’t resolve anything when you are angry. So if you’ve got your knickers in a twist, give yourself some time to calm down before you tell your loving mate what he or she did to bug you (this time). Getting mad at someone and venting at them only serves to push the real feelings down and make the other person detach.
• Never yell. Yelling is a form of abuse, pure and simple. If your mate cowers internally every time you raise your voice, you are using it to control him or her. This isn’t fair or kind, and it will tear your relationship apart. Keeping your emotions contained may be very hard when you are upset, but you need to understand that when you yell at someone, you are verbally beating him or her up. Never try to intimidate your mate – and intimidation is something you can do without saying a word, too.
• Avoid threatening the relationship. Saying you want to break up – when what you really want is to get your own way – could leave you sleeping alone at night. Every issue in the relationship can’t be a relationship breaker. In a committed connection, it’s okay to disagree with your partner. The key is to see your disagreements as differences – many of which can be resolved. Try saying to your partner, “This is making me uncomfortable.” It will work much better than saying “I’m done.”
• Tell the truth. Exaggeration, incorrect observations, and certainly a straight-out lie (white to slightly darker shades) will not change things for the better or improve the nature of your relationship. Tell the whole truth as soon as you can. Trust is the bedrock of love. Without it, you are on shaky relational ground.
If you owe an apology, give it. If you are unable to say, “I’m sorry,” you’ll be unable to have a successful relationship with anyone. Eventually, you will accidentally step on your partner’s toes or your own feelings will get hurt. The wrong words will slip out, you will forget an important date, or you will behave inappropriately in some way. At that point, the best thing you can do is say, “Oops, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, and it won’t happen again.” If you add, “What can I do to make up for it?” your apology will be complete.
Disagreements are a part of communication and a part of life. Acknowledging that it’s okay for each other to express differing opinions — rather than expecting each other to always feel the same way — is a sign of a mature and nurturing relationship. In the long run, differences can make for more interesting and intimate conversation. Having someone agree with everything you feel can take some of the mystery out of life.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him atBarton@bartongoldsmith.com.