Making Relationships Work:
The Art Of Arguing
Further down the page: Ground rules for effective arguing
Many people are scared of arguing with their partners.
However, arguing is a necessary part of relationships: it is useful to discuss disagreements and show your partner the emotions that go with your differing opinions.
This page is about how to argue properly.
It won’t teach you how to have the last word, but it hopes to give you some ideas about how to argue passionately so that both of you win in the end by developing a stronger connection with each other.
Arguments between lovers are normal.
If you both are strong and passionate people, you will disagree at some point. If you start disagreeing about things that are really very important to both of you, your discussions may get quite heated. Arguing can range from a straight forward disagreement to a stand-up shouting match. All of these confrontations can be extremely useful in developing your relationship.
Benefits of arguing
Arguments are often necessary for us to really get to know each other.
They help us to separate emotionally in a good way from our partners as we are confronted with how different they seem from us at that point. Emotional separateness between partners is important because it allows you to function as separate individuals (also see managing anxiety, and co-dependent relationships).
Arguments are also often necessary to set important limits or boundaries in a relationship.
It is simply not always possible or desirable to get one’s own way in a relationship. An argument puts emotional energy behind your partner’s wish for you to behave differently. It will help you take note of what is important to your partner and you can then decide whether you want to comply with his or her wishes or not.
On the other hand, if you feel your partner is not taking you seriously, increasing the emotional volume behind your statement may be necessary to get heard.
In a relationship both partners need to have their say for it to work long term.
Therefore, arguing may help to redress power imbalances in a relationship and set matters straight again.
Finally, arguing can clear the air when things have been building up. It is a good way of communicating the intensity of your feelings and letting go of them in the process. It is not good for relationships to keep things in!
Ultimately, arguments will help to bring you closer to your partner. You will really get to know the other for the person he or she is, rather then continue to live with your fantasy about who you think he or she is.
This may not be an easy process and can involve a lot of disillusionment and emotional turmoil, but you can gain an honest and deep relationship with your beloved.
Arguing can also be seen as a stage in the development of a relationship. Everything about the other seems perfect when we fall in love. However, we don’t really know the other at that point and we fall in love partly because of our illusion about how we want the other to be.
After this honeymoon period at the start of a relationship comes a long and difficult phase in which we really get to know each other. Arguing during this time is common and in my opinion unavoidable.
Give it about five years or thereabouts to settle down! Long term relationships don’t get built overnight. However, arguing may always be a feature of your relationship. It can be a good tool to keep things honest and open between the two of you.
Never, ever physically attack your partner!
It doesn’t matter what sex you are, or whether you are the physically weaker one in a couple.
Getting physically aggressive with your partner is not acceptable under any circumstances.
You may feel all sorts of intense feelings, but you are an adult who is fully responsible for managing his or her own emotions. If you feel like you are losing control of yourself walk away from the situation and give yourself some time and space to cool off.
And of course people can also behave in a very threatening way physically without ever laying hands on somebody, so be aware of how you’re using your body in an argument and don’t threaten your partner physically. Don’t throw hard objects either.
Love does not grow out of fear.
Don’t attack your partner verbally
People can be very aggressive and personally insulting with words.
Personal, verbal insults are neither acceptable nor useful in an argument.
Always remember that your partner is (or was) a person you care about.
He or she is not your enemy.
If you hadn’t have loved him or her at some point you wouldn’t be having an argument with them now.
Although you may be at odds with each other during an argument, you and your partner are still a team. By not saying anything personally insulting you are safeguarding the interests of both of you for the future, rather than trying to win and score points personally.
Furthermore, simply consider how much apologizing you will have to do later for trading personal insults during your argument!
It’s immature: do you really need to score points that badly?
Own your own feelings
This bit may be quite hard in an argument, but it will minimize defensiveness all round. If you are telling your partner what you are not happy with always say “I feel ….”, “I want … from you”, etc.
When you state your case from your perspective you are owning your side of it.
This creates a very different process then when you say “You make me feel… by doing….”, “You are this, that and the other”. The latter often leads to blaming or defensiveness and it is easy to get into entrenched positions.
An argument is all about stating what’s what as you see it.
You need to be willing to be open with your partner about how you feel and what you’re thinking. One really great benefit of arguing is that in the heat of the moment you may be honest about things which you would normally not be willing to say to your partner. Therefore, arguments can help to bring more closeness and honesty into your relationship.
There is no point trying to hide or protect your partner from how you are really feeling.
So in some way, “brutal” honesty is what is often needed, but without personal insults, attacks or pushing responsibility for your feelings onto your partner.
In short be honest, but don’t persecute your partner.
This follows on from the above point on honesty. If you name things as they are for you without beating round the bush, the whole argument will be over quicker.
Stick to what is happening right now between the two of you and state what you are thinking and feeling clearly.
This will need some practice as strong feelings often don’t help one’s articulation. Being direct also means you don’t keep on talking and talking, but each of you gets a chance to talk and state your case.
Give yourself “time out”
Arguments can involve very intense feelings and use up a lot of energy. Give yourself time to cool off, or to step away and calm down for a bit.
It’s OK to have breaks from the process and to come back to it once you are feeling a bit calmer again.
Some things can’t get sorted straight away and need more time. For some people it is really hard to manage interruptions in the continuity of the relationship. If you are getting really stressed when your partner wants to have some time out, it may help to learn to manage your own anxiety better in the moment.
Arguments still progress in these breaks as each partner has time to reflect and process what has happened.
Even though you may feel no connection at all to your partner during this break they are still there. It’s OK to be with yourself for a while: the other person is still around and hasn’t packed his or her bags yet!
Be willing to forgive
At some point an argument needs to stop again. Normally, this happens when an issue has been resolved, or there has been some change in one or both partners.
Whenever it is OK for you, try and let things go again. Maybe what has been said is enough for now.
At that point, check with yourself whether you are willing to forgive your partner, or accept him or her for who he or she is even if that’s not how you ideally would like them to be.
If you find this difficult maybe there is still something you need to say? On the other hand, be aware of your own tendency to try and win arguments or to try and have the last word.
You can’t both have the last word each and every time; however, by forgiving each other and letting things go you can both win as a team.
How do you know your arguments are positive rather than destructive?
I believe that during a constructive argument something new happens. You or your partner may express yourselves differently, or you may try to react differently. You may show yourself more, or find out some new information about your partner.
Useful arguments mean you learn something new about yourself or your partner – even if issues haven’t been resolved. Keep in mind that some issues cannot be resolved, and that there may always be tensions about differences between the two of you.
I is really useful to think and reflect on arguments once they are finished. You could use the ego state model, strokes or the concept of symbiosis to reflect more on what has happened between the two of you.
Consider what you’ve learned about yourself through this process. Additionally, what have you learned about your partner and your relationship with him or her through this argument?
What if you are always repeating the same argument over and over?
This is when things can get really stuck. Quite often couples will then escalate the intensity of emotion to try and move the process forward. Intense arguments have a lot to do with our past relationships – at least as much as they have to do with our present relationships.
It may help you to read up on ego states and script to understand what is happening. You may both be replaying unresolved issues that you bring from past relationships or childhood. The more you learn about yourself and your own reactions the better.
Try and reflect on yourself as much as you can before you allocate responsibility or agency to your partner. For example: “‘I am feeling scared, maybe because of my past experiences, therefore, I get very nervous when she wants to go out with her friends, which I hate to admit to her, so I just get angry instead and protest about her going.”
This is much more useful then thinking “She makes me angry because she likes to go out with her friends.” If you find this type of self reflection difficult please consider consulting a couples therapist or individual therapy. Learning about yourself is an important part of being a good partner and lover.