What Are Your Rules for Arguing?

Some couples seem able to navigate disagreements and resolve them without damaging the relationship. Recently, though, I've worked with a few couples who, although they say they loved each other dearly, act like they're in a battlefield when they're arguing. And you could say, they "shoot to kill."

What they are killing, though not on purpose, is the other person's spirit and their connection to one another. This is very sad.

There are some rules that, if used, can mitigate or even prevent the damage done by disagreements.

But before I list them, I want to examine briefly, what prompts people to hurt others, especially the one they love?

It seems that some people are driven by their emotions.

In fact, they feel unable to control themselves when they get upset. To be clear, I'm not talking about people with some mental illness, I'm talking about mentally healthy adults.

When they get angry, they "let it all hang out". All rules are ignored and they curse, engage in character assassination ("You're the most selfish person I have ever met", "Why are you so stupid?"), and generally tear down the other person until their partner is either sobbing or completely checked out (and wounded).

These types of exchanges are so damaging that relationships don't recover. We all need to realize that it is our job to manage our emotions rather than acting them out (giving voice to our most judgmental, critical, nasty thoughts-which we all have at times). Instead of saying all mean things that come to mind, having the emotional maturity to edit what you say when you're very angry. First, bring yourself back to your calm self, then talk.

Now, the "rules".

1. Refrain completely from cursing at your partner.

2. Refrain from calling your partner names or criticizing your partner's character.

3. Keep the discussion on topic-a specific behavior, tone, something they forgot, etc. Do not bring in past misdeeds to pile on. For example, if the topic is one person's failure to do their share of laundry, don't say that their mother didn't bring them up well or that they also do a bad job cleaning the kitchen.

4. If, during the disagreement, either of you feels like they are getting very angry and can't get themselves back in control, they should call a "Time Out". This time out should also include a time limit, so the other person doesn't feel abandoned (which they would if one partner just walked out). For example, "I'm getting angry and I want to get myself back to calm. I need a time out for 20 minutes. I'll be back in 20 and let's continue this topic."

Maybe you two don't have these issues while fighting, and that's good. However, make sure that you don't both avoid difficult topic because it might cause an argument. Having "rules" or principles that you adhere to during an argument, can be a source of trust and safety in your relationship. That structure, when adhered to, makes it safer to bring up crucial topics that need to be addressed.

There are more rules for fair fighting, but these are good ones to start with. If you would like my help in this, or other relationship concerns, please contact me:

With love, Carol

PS -  Talk with your partner and decide which one of these rules you're going to try during your next argument.

Please let me know how it went, using the rule you chose.

If you would like help with finding your balance, we could explore that together in a complimentary “Discover Next Steps”  Zoom call with me. 

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