Fighting in a relationship is normal. Even the happiest couples run into conflict and differences of opinion. Arguing isn’t a sign your love is doomed – in fact, you can use your disagreements as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship.
So how can you navigate conflict in a healthy, productive way to help your relationship, rather than hurt it?
Family and Relationship Counsellor Val Holden explains how to have a healthy argument, and the big no-nos to avoid in the heat of the moment.
Why do couples argue?
“Couples can fight about almost anything,” Val explains. “Sometimes, it’s small issues like putting dishes in the sink or taking out the rubbish. And then there are much bigger issues such as finances, alcohol, or gambling and its effect on the relationship. Or making a decision that may affect the rest of your life – like deciding to have children, move homes, or change jobs.”
Some of the common topics couples argue over include money, in-laws, and how much quality time is spent together. Of course, every relationship is different, and what is a source of conflict for one couple may not be an issue for another couple.
“All relationships have disagreements,” says Val. “A healthy argument is one where you can discuss your differences respectfully and come to a win-win where each person feels understood and respected.”
How to Have a Healthy Argument
“Always be respectful and listen to understand what your partner is saying,” Val advises. “Try not to react in anger, and give yourself some space if you feel yourself getting angry.”
While it may be tempting to react based on the emotions you’re feeling in that moment, it’s best to take a breath and respond thoughtfully.
Val recommends revisiting the issue once negative emotions have passed to ensure the problem is addressed and resolved for good.
“Always come back and take up the matter again when things have calmed down,” she says. “Otherwise, issues never get resolved – they just get pushed under the rug, and will emerge again when another disagreement looms.”
Things to Avoid in an Argument
Disagreements can be worsened if we lash out or seek to ‘win’ rather than listen with kindness. Avoid these behaviours for arguments that are more rapidly resolved with fewer hurt feelings:
- Don’t become aggressive, call each other names, or yell.
- Be mindful of your body language and facial expressions. Eye-rolling and head-shaking can antagonise your partner and increase tension.
- Don’t bring up past issues. Work on the issue at hand and find another time to bring up unrelated, unresolved issues.
- Don’t become defensive. If you’re quick to put your guard up, you won’t be open to your partner’s point of view.
- Don’t tell your partner “you’re just like your mother/father”. Attacking them and their family can make your partner protective and defensive.
- Avoid arguing in front of children without finding a resolution.
“It’s OK to have a healthy disagreement in front of your children and model conflict resolution to them,” Val explains. “But never have a disrespectful fight in front of your children, where you both get angry and don’t model a resolution. This makes children feel unsafe and models disrespect and anger.”
When to Seek Help
Good communication is key for a strong relationship. If you can’t seem to resolve your issues or you don’t know how to approach your partner with a problem, relationship counselling might help improve your communication for healthier arguments.
“Counsellors are trained to work with couples to help resolve conflicts and misunderstandings,” says Val. “Through the course of sessions, you’ll learn to understand your partner better, how they think, what motivates them, and how to communicate in a respectful and healthy way. This will help to resolve conflict in your relationship and teach you how to resolve disagreements before they escalate.”
You can learn more about our relationship counselling and its benefits here.