Some people love to argue. I am not one of them.
Sure, it can be fun to debate a current issue or argue a case in court, but when it comes to personal relationships, I’d rather not. Still, it took years of research, reading, and experience to come to my own sense of how best to avoid an argument with my partner and how best to end it when it occurs.
It comes down to simple principle we share: An argument is not over until we’re grateful that it happened.
When you embrace this idea, and put it into practice, your arguments get shorter, more productive, and further and farther between.
How does it work?
First, there is a category of arguments that happen in relation to facts – what happened and when, who was President during the first World War, or how many states ratified the ERA. This category isn’t even worth arguing about. Look it up.
Other arguments arise in relation to making plans and allocating resources: how to work, play, parent, house-keep, or accomplish a task; what to buy, where to live, how much to save, and when to spend time together; who’s going to do the dishes, and how you’re going to pay the bills.
In these cases, when an argument occurs it’s often not just about the issue. All of these questions can be explored and discussed. However, discussions turn into arguments when one person and maybe both people, want something that they’re not getting – where that something is less tangible, like respect, attention, empathy, or support.
An argument is often not about what you think it’s about. As a result, the way to end the argument is not for one person to win. There is no winning. Rather, the way to end the argument is to be honest with yourself about what you need and willing to listen hard to what the other needs too.
1. Enter an argument with good faith. You have reasons. You have concerns. So does your partner. Be clear. You don’t want to hurt the other person or make the other person feel badly in any way. You want to find a better way forward, together.
2. Don’t attack. It is so easy to let frustration, disappointment, and anger shoot out of us in sniping words intended to sting and provoke. We can’t help it. But the reason we can’t, when we can’t, has less to do with the issue and more with those intangible needs listed above.
3. Be honest. By the time an argument happens, resentment and frustration may have been accumulating for days, weeks, months, even years. Don’t let the resentment snowball. Do yourself and your partner a favor and ask for what you need – not because you’ll get it immediately, but because you’re going to start deceiving yourself and your partner if you’re not honest about it.
It’s tempting to fear that sharing your feelings may provoke your partner into a fight. And it happens. But the reason it happens is not because you shared your feelings, it’s because your partner has feelings to share as well.
4. Leave space for the other to move toward you. Any argument happens because people on both sides care. A person who doesn’t care has no reason to fight. And care is inherently dynamic. Care wants to move to where it is needed. The key, then, is to create space for what the other cares about – listen – and let that care evolve in response to where you are.
5. Be willing to move yourself. You can be right, completely right, 100% right, and still need to move, to listen, to honor, and to respond. Be ready to move because you care about something more than the fact that you are right.
When you argue in these ways, something shifts: an argument becomes an opportunity to learn more about how to be a better and happier partner. It is an opportunity to learn about where you and your partner each feel vulnerable. Insecure. Uncertain. Where we are less than we want ourselves to be.
And the good thing is, we don’t have to “fix” these patterns all at once. We don’t have to suddenly become all-confident, all-knowing, and all-loving. Neither does our partner. To the contrary. The places we are wounded become places we can connect more deeply, as we listen, hold space, and help each other grow.
There are reasons to fight. Fight for your relationship. Fight to be free of fear or judgment or anger. Fight to stay open on all registers to your feelings, needs, and desires – the engines of transformation and growth. Fight to keep love alive.
Fight until you drop into a place of pure gratitude for the other person, who’s here fighting alongside you.
Don’t fight against one another. Fight for what you can create together.