Knowing how to argue effectively can restore peace to your home
Consider the political climate of the present day: those on the right are becoming more radical in their ways, just as those on the left are becoming more radical in their ways. And, room for compromise seems to be shrinking with every current event. Does your marriage feel like the political climate of 2021? Do you feel as though your spouse is on one side of the spectrum while you’re on the other? Do you feel like every day something happens to push you both further from agreement than ever? If so, it may be worth it to take a good, hard look at the way you and your spouse are arguing. Perhaps, it’s time for you and your spouse to learn how to argue effectively.
Don’t Insult Your Spouse
In an object lesson taught to many first graders, teachers give each student a tube of toothpaste. Then, the teachers tell the students to squirt out all the toothpaste onto their desks and play with it. Obviously, chaos ensues. For ten minutes the students are totally focused on getting all the toothpaste out and spreading it all over their desks. Then the teachers tell the students to put all the toothpaste back in the tube—an impossible task. The moral? The students were so focused on getting it out, they never considered how they were going to put it back. The object lesson was designed to teach children that the things they say cannot be unsaid. Refraining from personal attacks and insults is the first step in learning how to argue effectively.
Do This Instead
It’s not unheard of for spouses to say things they don’t mean, especially when times are tough and emotions are high. However, what you say to your spouse cannot be unsaid—even if you didn’t mean it. Calling out personal weaknesses in cruel and insulting ways can be forgiven, but it may not be readily forgotten. And, the damage to your spouse’s self-worth may not be easily repaired. If you’re in a heated argument with your spouse, and you’re not sure if what you’re going to say will insult your spouse, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it true?
- Is it necessary?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it kind? If not, how can I make it kind?
When you’re arguing with your spouse, the point is to attack the problem, not your spouse. If your spouse has done something to upset you, focus on what your spouse has done to upset you, instead of focusing on attacking your spouse’s character.
Don’t Escalate the Situation
In every conflict, there are ways to escalate the tension and ways to de-escalate the tension. When you’re arguing with your spouse, you should always be trying to de-escalate the conflict. Behaviors like yelling, swearing, personal insults, physical demonstrations of anger, and general disrespect, tend to escalate the tension. Most people will react in one of two ways: they will either match your behavior by further escalating the conflict, or they will completely shut down. When people respond by further escalating the conflict, the argument often gets blown out of proportion. When people shut down, they tend to check out of the argument; they stop listening and may give in, even when they don’t agree. When this happens, the argument doesn’t get resolved because one of the parties has disengaged.
Do This Instead
If you or your spouse has a problem with escalating the argument, you can respond to them by asking them questions about what they’ve said. Focus on what the disagreement is and where your spouse is coming from. Ask them clarifying questions until you understand their position. Most people yell, swear, insult, etc. out of frustration because they don’t feel heard. Asking questions will usually calm the other party down because you’re telling them that you want to hear them and understand them. If you’re normally the one who escalates the conflict, remember that when you’re having an argument, it’s because you and your spouse don’t agree. Focus on coming to an agreement by listening to where your spouse is coming from. Do not assume you know their side of things until you’ve heard it from their mouth.
Don’t Get Competitive
The saying goes as follows, “In a debate, there’s a winner and a loser, but never a convert.” If after an argument you feel as though you’ve either lost or won the argument, that may be a sign that you’re focusing too much on whether or not you won the argument. The problem with trying to win an argument is that it puts you against your spouse. When you’re focusing on “winning” your spouse becomes your opponent, and instead of looking out for what’s best for you as a couple, you’re looking out for your own best interests. Also, when you’re focusing on being the winner, you are, by default, focusing on making your spouse the loser.
Do This Instead
If you know that you tend to see arguments as winners and losers, or, if your spouse views arguments as if there’s a winner and a loser, there is a solution. If you see your spouse as your opponent, try remembering during an argument that you and your spouse are a team. Try to make sure that everything that comes out of your mouth is directed at finding a solution. Refrain from making personal attacks, or attacking your spouse’s character. If your spouse is trying to “win” the argument, you’re going to have to be the bigger person here. They may attempt to bring up past mistakes, your insecurities, and your flaws. Though it will be difficult, it will be your job to redirect the conversation back to the main issue.
Don’t Assume You’re Right
Closely related to believing there’s a winner and there’s a loser, is believing that you’re right and your spouse is wrong. When people begin arguments with the attitude that they’re right and their spouse is wrong, they tend to have a hard time respecting their spouse and their spouse’s opinion. A lack of respect can cause people to engage in destructive behaviors such as talking down to their spouse, rolling their eyes, scoffing, and smirking. Marriage expert, John Gottman, cites contemptuous behavior, such as the aforementioned, as a large predictor of divorce.
Do This Instead
If you know that you have a difficult time respecting your partner’s opinion, it may be time to change your perspective. Instead of looking at it as though you’re right and your partner is wrong, try looking at it in a different light. There is an issue that you both have a differing opinion on. Neither opinion is right, they’re just different. Start discussing the similarities of your opposing viewpoints. Where do you agree? When you get to the parts you disagree on, look for ways that you can compromise. If your spouse tends to view the situation as them being right and you being wrong, try to look for ways to approach the argument based on finding solutions to the problem.
Don’t Force Your Spouse to Argue
Arguments typically favor those who have superior verbal processing skills. However, even those with experience in debating may need to take a step back from the disagreement in order to process what’s happening and think rationally about it. If your spouse tells you that they need to be alone, do not force them to continue the argument. If your spouse wants to be alone, they likely want some time to cool down and think things through. Out of respect for them, you should allow them to have this time.
Do This Instead
If you notice that you’re prone to blowing up during heated arguments, you may ask your spouse if you can have some time alone. In order to do this effectively, think about the physical and emotional cues your body gives you as warning signs you’re about to start seeing red. If you know you’re about to blow up, it’s time you tell your spouse you need some space to cool down during a fight. If your spouse is prone to blowing up, look for cues that they might be about to start seeing red. When you notice this, tell them you need some space to calm down and think things through. Avoid telling them to calm down, as that tends to do the opposite in high stress situations.
When You Need Clarity
Knowing your relationship is over can be just as difficult as figuring out how to argue effectively. In No One Dies from Divorce, leading female empowerment attorney, Jill Coil, walks readers through when to save their marriage and when to end it. If you’re looking for direction, order Jill’s book today.