I used to believe that having an argument was the first sign of an unhealthy relationship. I perceived a disagreement as a symptom of incompatibility, and I equated an absence of fighting with the absence of conflicting opinions. I now have a better understanding that any meaningful relationship stems from honest and direct communication, which may realistically spark challenging conversations that produce friction. Perhaps a more reliable indicator of a healthy relationship isn’t how often two people fight, but how they fight. Now, it’s not my place to pass judgment about the content of another couple’s spat or dismiss their communication style as long as it works for them. Like I always say; there’s an ass for every seat. That being said, I’ve established a few simple ground rules to follow whenever I feel a brawl brewing with a buddy.
Avoid using “always” or “never” statements.
Always/Never statements are seldom 100% accurate. Making broad, exaggerated accusations are more likely to evoke defensive reactions from others than they are to stir up thoughtful introspection. For example, saying “You never clean the bathroom,” creates an opening to deviate from solving your problem to debate whether the person who finished the roll of toilet paper ought to replace it, or if it’s the duty (no pun intended) of the next person who uses the bathroom. At best, trivial technicalities like those are indirect contributors to the underlying issue, and since they don’t support you reaching a resolution, they’re rarely worth discussing. The goal shouldn’t be bashing your partner or proving that they’re wrong; the goal should be establishing common ground to prevent an isolated incident from becoming a recurring crisis.
Start your sentences with “I” rather than “you”.
Starting a statement with “you” can sound critical amidst an argument, and making allegations about a person’s behavior can leave the other person feeling attacked. When you start a sentence with “I”, you give yourself an opportunity to explain your interpretation of the situation. In turn, the other party has the opportunity to listen and offer an explanation of their intent so that you can identify if a disagreement exists, or if there was simply a misunderstanding. Instead of stooping to name calling or insulting someone’s character, take ownership of your beliefs by using phrases such as, “I sense that…”, “I’m trying to…”, “This is how I feel when…”, etc. Doing so gives the other person insight into your side of the story without making them feel condemned so that they’re more likely to respond with empathy, or at least try to be objective about the situation.
Identify what you’d like to get out of the confrontation before you start it.
Why are you upset? What would make you feel better? Know the answers to those questions before addressing the other person, and don’t bring up any topics that don’t aim to achieve reconciliation. Picking insignificant fights to antagonize the other person will only escalate a small battle into a full blown war. Though a snide, irrelevant jab may feel good in the heat of an argument, it will ultimately direct the conversation further from a desirable outcome for either of you.
Remember: if the person you’re fighting with is important to you, you probably don’t want to hurt them. If the person you’re fighting with is not important to you, then don’t waste your breath confronting them at all.
And I’m always right, so if you disagree with me, then you’re just a stubborn idiot.
…See what I did there?