We’ve all been there: something comes up between you and your S.O., you disagree, and you squabble—or maybe even scream a little bit at each other (but no so much that it’s highly problematic). After the argument, did you think about what you wanted to say and what you did say? Did you say something you’ll regret? Happily, there are ways to make your arguments more productive. You won’t stop arguing altogether (nor should you), but here are some suggestions for working towards happiness with your partner and ensuring you both learn from the arguments you do have.
A 14-year study of 79 married couples living in the American Midwest revealed certain key truths about why some marriages work and some don’t. University of California at Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson and University of Washington psychology professor John Gottman, conductor of the study, was able to qualify the specific elements of relationships that lasted.
Lasting couples addressed problems earlier.
Rather than wait for the clock to run out on an argument by letting feelings build up and eventually explode, smart couples address the argument and the problem earlier. Gottman suggests picturing yourself in a boat while the sea around you represents your emotions—do everything you can to stabilize, or you’ll go over. Talk openly and immediately, as soon as you can after you argue.
Listen to each other.
Don’t bulldoze your partner’s feelings or opinions. Don’t cut off arguments before you’ve reached a conclusion. Or, if things get too heated, it’s okay to take a break as long as you return to the conversation later. Make sure you leave room in the argument for both sides. It’s important to approach each other with an open mind, Gottman urges.
A lot of people think that couples’ counseling is for people whose relationships are going down the gutter. That’s a sad misconception, because couples’ counseling offers a lot of great benefits even for strong, solid relationships. Another study that looked at 145 couples found that those who received training about how to address conflict were more satisfied with their relationships a year on than couples who didn’t.
Engaging positively in conflict with your partner is a good way to get to know each other better—not just their personality traits, but how you can deal with challenges together. Give these tactics a try the next time you and your partner get into it.