How to Have a Constructive Argument with Your Partner
As a child of divorce, I didn't learn healthy ways to communicate. When I saw my parents argue or disagree, they were always yelling, screaming, and using harmful language. It never occurred to me that there were healthy ways to argue. I thought everyone just yelled when they were mad.
That was until about a year into my first adult relationship, when I figured out every disagreement we had didn't have to be a blowup. With the help of my therapist, a few good books, and lots of podcasts, I learned that I could work through a problem with my partner, and not against them.
I learned to calm my body.
When I start to argue with my partner, I feel my pulse race, blood rush to my cheeks, and my jaw clench. These are natural physical reactions to stress. It's my body's way of telling me "You're in danger! Get out!" — a physiological reaction left over from the cavemen days.
If I allow my body to continue down this path, my brain will be hijacked and the argument will escalate 100 times more than needed. To prevent that, I check in with my body and work to calm her down.
To calm my body down, I start by taking deep breaths. This can be weird to do in the heat of the moment, so I usually excuse myself to the bathroom and take a moment to do some breathing exercises. When I come back, I'm in a much better place to have a rational conversation. It's also easier to remember some grounding principles.
I remind myself that it's not me against them — it's both of us against the argument.
When we think of the word "fight," we immediately think of an enemy or opponent. To fight, there has to be someone you are fighting against; there has to be a winner, and there has to be a loser. But I've learned that in relationships, this is a dangerous way to think of arguments with a partner.
I immediately shift my mindset to thinking it's not about winning, it's about coming to a conclusion that is acceptable and reasonable for both of us. I work with my partner to create a solution to the problem we're facing. Once I realize that my partner and I are on the same team, I don't hear what they have to say as an attack or take it personally.
Because ultimately, it's not about the argument — it's how we fight.
It doesn't matter what my partner and I are talking about, or how serious of a topic, or the frequency of the arguments — it all comes down to how we approach the argument. Because arguments are inevitable in a relationship. That's why it's so critical to find a way to do it well.