How to Disagree Without Fighting With Your Partner
Disagreements in relationships are inevitable in even the happiest partnerships, but fighting doesn’t need to be. Disagreeing in a healthy manner takes conscientious effort, but it’s admittedly a lot less work than dealing with the fallout of a bad fight. Whether it’s disagreeing about something big or small, use these tips to avoid getting caught up in the moment and move through conflicts gracefully and respectfully.
Find the Pattern
The first step towards avoiding a fight is to anticipate disagreements before they happen. Pay attention to the topics you find yourselves frequently at odds about. Do you often argue about housework or where to spend the upcoming holidays? Knowing this pattern allows you to address upcoming obstacles early and head on. For example, if you see the dishes are getting out of hand or the holidays are around the corner, have a preliminary, thoughtful conversation about it before feelings boil over and a serious problem develops.
Once a disagreement crops up, don't be afraid to call a timeout to take a breath. This is important because it’s likely that one or both parties will enter “fight, flight, or freeze” mode during conflict. This is an instinctual defense mechanism to fight the problem, run from it, or avoid reacting to it altogether. Avoiding this urge is crucial to having a conducive and productive conversation. For example, discussing a problem five minutes before you must leave for work will likely cause you to be rushed, annoyed, and more likely to get upset.
Even if you are not exactly pressed for time, it can still be wise to press pause to process the issue before you revisit it again. Simply schedule time with your partner to have the conversation, ensuring that you not only have ample time, but also have given yourself room to process the issue and know what exactly you want to communicate. All in all, good timing slows everything down and removes unneeded pressure.
During disagreements, you might feel compelled to subconsciously brainstorm how to prove your point - but remember that there is no right or wrong point to prove. Refereeing the issue will only make the other party more defensive. Avoid telling your partner that they are wrong for their feelings, and actively listen instead.
Active listening is crucial in stopping a disagreement from becoming a fight. Actively listen to your partner by focusing on them when they speak, understanding the message behind their words, and thoughtfully responding. This differs from the tendency to passively listen to the speaker while mentally rehearsing how to respond when they are done speaking.
Don’t forget to ask for clarification as often as you need to truly understand the meaning behind their words.
Make Requests, Not Complaints
You might not be getting what you want from your partner because you are not directly asking for it. Instead of starting an argument with superlatives, like “you always” or “you never,” rephrase your need. For example, if you need help cleaning the house, then instead of saying “You never help keep the house clean,” try “I’m feeling a bit stressed about the housework. Will you help me clean the house later tonight? It would make me feel a lot better.” Superlatives and complaints can make the other party defensive and derail from the real issue. Importantly, stay on topic. If you notice the conversation is drifting off topic and bringing in unnecessary details, gently guide it back on track.
On a final note, remember to apologize if you get overheated and say something you don’t mean, but also apologize even if you have unintentionally hurt your partner. Moving through disagreements in good faith will remind both parties that the ultimate goal is to build a better and more loving understanding of one another.