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Dealing with arguments

It's normal to argue with a partner. But sometimes arguments can turn into slanging matches that leave you red in the face or sobbing into a pillow. Here's how to deal with them.

couple arguing

"I can't BELIEVE you said our outfit's clash."

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What’s your argument actually about?

With patience, basic communication skills and honesty, you can learn how to compromise when it comes to arguments. Look at the reasons behind your clashes to see what provokes you as a couple. “Was it insecurity that made you lash out? Do they make you feel neglected or jealous in some way?” says Sally Brampton, Sunday Times agony aunt. “Often the things that spark off arguments are more to do with us as a person and have little to do with the topic that’s actually being argued.”

If there are sensitive or taboo topics on your mind, try to get them out in the open to stop them becoming ticking timebombs. Physical factors can also play a huge part, so don’t underestimate the effect of exhaustion or hormones upon a situation. Warn your partner if you’re not in the best of moods so they don’t take it personally and can give you some breathing space.

We keep having the same argument over and over

Couples often use themes such as money, sex or housework, to fight for their deeper needs in a relationship. So rows about washing up are often really about respect, and arguments about sex can actually highlight someone’s needs for affection. Until you deal with the real issue, you’re likely to keep bickering. If one person seizes the opportunity to bring up numerous other nagging grievances, it can really drag an argument out. Don’t get bogged down in meaningless detail, and avoid absolutes. Retorts such as “You always push me away,” might feel true at the time, but are often an exaggeration and will only result in a defensive reaction. If you have a legitimate grievance, don’t demean it by stretching it into a ‘never’ or an ‘always’.

Your partner can’t read your mind

So, you’ve been kept up all night by your partner’s snoring – reasonable grounds for annoyance, perhaps. But did you think to explain that before flying off the handle? Many arguments could be avoided if both parties remember to talk about things, rather than relying on mind-reading. At their best, arguments are chances to communicate honestly with your partner. But when tempers flare, the opportunity for rational communication will often evaporate. “I think that the best way to argue is to sit down and try to stay calm,” says Evi, 17, from the Barnet Youth Board. “As much as you think you’re right, the other person thinks the exact same thing. There’s no right or wrong. There are just different levels of compromise.”

Always try to confront the real issue, not each other. If you fall into the trap of trying to win an argument, both of you will lose out. Listen, and ensure you both have your say without being interrupted.

Should you say sorry?

Sometimes, all a partner is looking for is an apology, but when this isn’t forthcoming, the argument escalates. “It’s normal that some people want to have the upper hand in an argument and don’t want to admit defeat,” says Akeem, 17, also from the youth board. “You can’t force someone to say they’re sorry – I think a forced ‘sorry’ has no meaning anyway. If the person is genuinely repentant and you can forgive them, the issue is not irreconcilable.”

Are you still holding a grudge?

Learning to move on from past problems in your relationship is on the whole a positive move. But sometimes the matter won’t settle, especially if you’ve not managed to sort things out properly at the time. Usually, issues that are hard to get over involve a breach of trust which is more significant to one person than the other – such as a forgotten anniversary or an affair. You need to approach these subjects carefully and appreciate the feelings at stake, however insignificant they might seem on the surface. If you’re the one holding a grudge, ask yourself whether it’s necessary or is just causing you unnecessary pain.

Are you being nice to each other?

After the ‘honeymoon period’ it’s only natural that couples get more comfortable with each other, which in many ways is a beautiful thing. But familiarity can also breed contempt. Long-term partners sometimes find it easier to slip into bad habits, such as using spiteful names or threatening to break-up with you. It’s helpful to ask yourself: would I speak to my best mate like that? Think about it: if you called them every name under the sun for not noticing your new haircut, or being 15 minutes late, would they consider that acceptable? So why should your partner?

Is it healthy to argue all the time?

Arguing does have some positives outcomes – sometimes it’s the only time a couple might speak the truth, prompting an immense sense of relief after offloading. It can also add drama and gain one partner the attention they crave. Making up often makes up for the heartache as it can provide a chance to reaffirm your love for each other. But this pattern can become addictive and destructive if it’s taken too far, so tread carefully and seek help if you’re worried things have got out of hand.

Photo of yellow couple by Shutterstock

Next Steps

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By Liz Nicholls

Updated on 07-Aug-2014

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