The Good Feud Guide (Part One)
Bad arguing habits and how to deal with them.
Arguing is extremely healthy in relationships, as long as you do it properly. In fact by becoming good at rows, your partnership can survive anything.
The first step to effective arguments is understanding your partner’s feud style and, perhaps even harder, owning up to your own bad arguing habits.
So, what are the common tactics that DON’T work, and how should you respond if your partner uses them?
Most Likely to Say: ‘I don’t want to talk about this.’ ‘Why are you always so angry?’ ‘Not that again, how will we ever move on if you’re obsessed with the past?’
Effect: They remain Mr or Ms Nice. Calm and reasonable, while your hackles are so raised you could hang the washing on them!
It all leaves you feeling guilty and unreasonable. In the worst cases, partners of ‘Blockers’ find themselves apologising for bringing their problems up in the first place.
Deal with it: Try the ABC approach:
Address their problem, and show them you understand: ‘I know you don’t like disagreements.’
Bridge, for example: ‘but.’
Communicate: ‘I feel taken for granted when you......’
Most Likely to Say: ‘Could you pass the butter?”
Effect: They pull their sulking and moodiness round them like a protective shell. They hope to avoid a row but actually just makes you angrier still.
Of course nothing is resolved and the problems fester.
Deal with it: The temptation is to become angrier and angrier until you finally provoke a reaction. However once the argument is at fever point, it is impossible to solve anything.
Find another way round, like writing them a letter or alternatively bring your problem at a less emotionally charged time. Many silent partners are prepared to calmly discuss the issues, but their partners fear spoiling a good time together, so don’t seize the opportunity.
Listen to my podcast episode with Dr Susan Heitler on Win-Win Problem Solving for some tips on disagreeing constructively.
Most Likely to Say: ‘You’re talking crap.’ You’ll hear the A-Z of bad language, or they may decide a slammed door is worth a thousand words.
Effect: This normally happens after they have been blocking or silent, and the simmering pressure cooker has finally exploded.
Dropping Bombs is very aggressive and immediately puts you on the defensive. Afterwards they’re ashamed; you kiss and makeup; both promise to try harder. For a while it’s better, until the whole cycle starts again.
Deal with it: The secret is to deal with the pinches of day-to-day life before they are saved up for a crunch. I call this ASK and TELL.
When something minor happens do tell your partner that you’re upset, and if their nose seems out of joint, ask. This works best with the minor irritations.
If it is too late and they’re dropping bombs, try modelling the pleasant behaviour you’d like from them; being nice to somebody who is on the attack can often stop them dead in their tracks.
Getting Cruel and Personal
Most Likely to Say: ‘Just because you’re putting on weight, there’s no need to take it out on me.’ ‘What would we expect from somebody so stupid?’ ‘You’re just like your father.’
Effect: This is perhaps the most devastating tactic. They blame their insults on the heat of the moment, but you are left hurting for weeks and sometimes years afterwards. No wonder these couples are most vulnerable to divorce.
Deal with it: Don’t be tempted to trade insults, this just turns up the heat. However nobody should put with this: explain what you find offensive and walk away. There is no point trying to argue with somebody in this frame of mind and staying only condones unacceptable behaviour.
Most Likely to Say: ‘Could you turn down Succession, there’s something we need to discuss?’ or ‘Could you stop bathing the baby and listen to me?’
Effect: You ask if you can discuss it later and they stomp off, shouting that you never listen. When you try and talk later, they sulk. For them, this is often a win-win situation. They can blame you for not facing the problems, and at the same time not have to listen to you ‘go on.’
Deal with it: Most people are not as calculating as this tactic makes them seem. They are simply not self-aware enough to understand all their deeper motivations. Try calling their bluff and actually listening. Switch off the television, dry off the baby, and surprise them by agreeing to talk right then and there.
Try my book Help Your Partner Say Yes: Seven Steps to Achieving Better Co-Operation and Communication if you find yourself regularly bogged down in arguments or procrastination.
Trying to Solve Problems on the Spot
Most Likely to Say: ‘So what do you want me to do about it?’ ‘But it’s easy....all you have to do is.....’
Effect: You feel that you’re not being listened to and certainly they have no idea about the real problem. Worse still, sometimes you’re not looking for a solution but need a moan.
Sadly many people, especially men, think they have to solve problems, while often women prefer to talk around a problem and know a solution will emerge organically.
Deal with it: Listen to their solution, because they are trying to be helpful. Next explain that you’d like to talk more before making the final decision. Finally discuss the options together. This is called the three stage model of problem solving. You need to EXPLORE, then UNDERSTAND before finally moving to ACTION.
Next instalment coming soon - in Part Two of the Good Feud Guide I’ll outline more argument styles, and include some advice on how to start making positive changes.
In other news, I think many of you will enjoy my podcast conversation with men’s coach Fabian Edzvard Schneider about coping with Mismatched Levels of Sexual Desire in your relationship. This is an issue most couples come up against at some stage, and Fabian’s approach is creative, positive and impressively good fun!
As always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (email@example.com) for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.