Arguingóitís inevitable when youíre in a relationship. But, believe or not, there is a way to do it right. Dr. Scott gives you pointers on how to turn conflict into a relationship-building dialog.
Why Do I allow my spouse to twist things around so it sounds like itís my fault?
When Todd and Faresha entered my office, I could feel the energy between them. "It seems like we argue about anything," Faresha said. "Thatís not true!" replied Todd, "There are lots of things we donít argue about." When I burst out laughing, they both stopped and looked at me. "Whatís so funny," they both asked. "Sorry," I murmured, "Itís just that you two are actually arguing about whether or not you argue!" That broke the ice, and we started to get down to business. One of the biggest problems that they, and many couples address, is why things tend to turn around in an argument, and the person who is pointing out problems is suddenly the bad guy.
Arguments are never pretty. They usually start because one person sees something differently than another person and feels a need to sway the other person to his or her point of view. Letís say you like Batman, and I like Spider-man. If you tell me your preference, and I say, "Yeah, youíre right," than thereís no argument. (Phew, that was easy!) If I stay neutral, or say, "OK, I can see why you feel that way, and it makes a lot of sense to me," then thereís still no argument. But, if I feel like any self-respecting fan of the teenage web-spinner, Iíll take exception to your pronouncement. When I speak up in defense of Peter Parker, we have the makings of an argument.
Sometimes, arguments take a turn for the worse when someone starts twisting things around. When one person states a problem in a way that feels blaming or angry, it often triggers defensive behavior. The partner who feels blamed then looks for fault in the first partner. That might come in the form of criticizing how the "complainer" complained, as in: "You always disrespect me when you tell me that I spent too much money!" Another form of defensiveness is to find faults in the actions of the person who lodged the complaint: "How dare you call me a slob when youíre the one who wears the same underpants two weeks in a row!" These strategies deflect the "blame" away from the person who is initially "attacked," and makes it seem like the other person, the one who first brought up the issue, is the one with the problem.
Man, can that be frustrating!
Whether the subject is comic book heroes or household money problems, researchers have proven that there are good and bad ways to argue. You can turn your own conflicts into relationship building dialogues by following these rules:
Remember, couples who are happily married argue just as frequently as those whose marriages fall apart. The difference is in how they argue. Follow some of these tips, and your relationship will grow better, not grow apart, over time.
- Donít start arguments with finger pointing ("you slob!"), instead, describe how the issue youíre concerned about affected you ("I feel frustrated when I have to clean up messes like these").
- Avoid getting defensive when others point out problems. Remember, your partner is not seeking to degrade you, they are simply trying to find a way to make themselves more comfortable. Ask more questions and show that you want to understand what the problem is.
- Ask yourself: "How important is this issue for me?" Most people find themselves getting into nasty arguments about insignificant things. Try to see the big picture, and refrain from trying to be right for the sake of being right.
- Respect your partner. Your mate has an opportunity to be a source of inspiration and information to you, if you show you are open to it. Feeling respected is critical in relationships; give your spouse the respect you would want for yourself.
- Be willing to come back after harsh words and patch things up. The old adage: "Donít go to bed mad," had been passed down to you for a reason.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wifeís Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com