In any relationship, there are arguments. That’s no secret. No one is perfect and no relationship is either. However, there are ways to argue with your partner that don’t always lead to full-blown chaos and an all-out screaming match. Check out some of Sex Out Loud’s healthy communication tips for ideas on how to argue objectively with your partner.
For an example, we’ll use this scenario:
Sam and Alex have been in a committed, monogamous relationship for quite a few years. Both of them are college students, however Alex is a working college student and Sam is not. During the summer when they both had more free time, Sam and Alex pretty much hung out at least once a day. Now that school is back in session and Alex is working a lot, they spend much less time together. Sam is frustrated by this because they want to spend more time with Alex. Alex is frustrated by Sam’s irritation—Alex has to work to afford school—and would prefer that they take a break.
The complicated task of balancing school, work and a relationship is one that plagues a lot of college students on the UW campus. Let’s look at some healthy communication styles to facilitate the discussion between partners.
1. Matching Intent With Impact: The intent part of this is what you mean, and the impact is what the other person thinks you mean. You want to make sure that these two things are synonymous, otherwise there can be some mixed signals between you and your partner. In Sam and Alex’s situation, Alex may say to Sam, “You know I have to work to afford school and have a really tight schedule; it’s hard for me to balance everything sometimes.” Sam may interpret this in a completely different way, thinking that Alex doesn’t love them enough to spend time with them.
2. Avoid Mind Reading: You want to make sure that you are not making assumptions about what your partner is thinking. For instance, if Alex says they need to talk about their relationship, Sam might assume that Alex means that they want to break up and go into the conversation with this frame of mind. In reality, Alex might not mean that at all. Sam has just engaged in mind reading.
3. Using “I” Language: Always speak for yourself. By doing this, you can automatically avoid mind reading. For example, Sam can say to Alex, “I feel upset that you have to work so much during the school year and I don’t get to see you as often.” Alex could then say to Sam, “I feel frustrated when you get upset with me for not spending as much time with you, because you know I have to work to afford to go to school.”
4. Documenting: You should cite specific examples of the issue at hand. In Sam and Alex’s situation, Sam could site specific examples of when Sam and Alex had plans to hangout and they had to cancel because of work. Alex could also site examples of times when Sam has gotten upset with them over not spending enough time with Sam.
5. Editing: You want to make sure you don’t say things to your partner that could be deliberately hurtful or irrelevant to the situation. In the simplest terms, think before you speak.
6. Being A Non-Defensive Listener: Focus on what your partner is saying and feeling, and don’t immediately become defensive or counterattack with complaints of your own. In Alex and Sam’s situation, because both of them have arguments of their own to make, it’s important that they take turns speaking about their complaints, so as to not talk over the other.
7. Provide Feedback and Paraphrasing: It’s important to add brief vocalizations, such as “uh huh”, “okay”, or nodding of your head and repeating in your own words what you think your partner meant. Try using a phrase such as, “So what you’re saying is…” or “What I think you meant is…is this correct?”.
8. Validate: Tell your partner that, given their point of view, you can see why they might think that way. In Alex and Sam’s situation, Alex can say to Sam, “Given your point of view, I can see why you would be upset with me that we don’t get to spend as much time together as we used to.” Sam can say to Alex, “Given your point of view, I can see why it’s so important to you to work so you can afford to go to school here.”
9. Fighting Fair: Make sure to not make sarcastic or insulting remarks, do not bring up former partners, do not threaten to leave or tell your parents, do not “dump” your partner and don’t try to play amateur psychologist. For example, in Alex and Sam’s situation, it would be inappropriate for Alex to say to Sam, “You’re only feeling neglected by me because your mom left when you were little and you have abandonment issues.”
No relationship is perfect and arguments happen, but by using some of Sex Out Loud’s healthy communication styles you can learn to argue objectively, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes for you and your partner.