If I could get in your head, I’m sure you could convince me that what you’re about to say will be THE ONE THING that your partner needs to hear to FINALLY understand where you’re coming from. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work. And if you keep trying, you’re going to lose. When you’re in an argument, it’s easy to get so caught up in what you want to say that you forget about your partner’s needs and wants.
In couples therapy, I’ve seen couples do all kinds of things in a desperate attempt to get their partner to understand. What they don’t realize is that they might as well put noise-canceling headphones over their partner’s ears, ’cause they ain’t listening!
The way you’re trying to communicate to your partner may work for you, but it doesn’t work for your partner. And this might feel good for a moment…you’ve got them right where you want them. But then you realize, your partner has checked out. Shut down. Left the building. You might as well be talking to yourself.
Does this sound familiar? Might you be the reason that your arguments are turning into a runaway train? Learn the top ways to lose an argument…so that you can be clear about what isn’t working.
1. Needing To Be Right
Do you ever feel like a little attorney pops up in the middle of your arguments? It’s like there’s a part of you that’s convinced that if you present enough evidence, your partner will realize all their faults. When you get into attorney mode, you stop listening and become fixated on whose view is more accurate or valid. You become fixated on proving our innocence.
If you do happen to win an argument this way, you’ve sadly lost in the long run. You’ve forfeited the chance to understand the true source of the problem and you’re keeping your relationship in disconnection.
2. Telling Your Partner What They Think
People hate to be told what they’re thinking or feeling…especially when it’s not accurate. When couples assume they know what’s going on inside their partner’s head, nothing can be more misleading and disconnecting. This losing strategy can shut down the healthiest of couples.
Instead, try listening and asking questions about your partner’s experience. Listening without an agenda can open up a new world of understanding for you and your partner. Asking questions can help you discover what’s really going on. It will also make you feel more connected and in sync with each other.
In an attempt to give you partner context so they know what you’re talking about, it can be tempting to show them the catalog of all the things they’ve done wrong. You’re misleading yourself if you think that this is the path to enlightenment.
What this does instead is walks you and your argument straight into the weeds which is the birthplace of defensiveness.
Instead, stay in the present moment. Talk about what’s hurting you right now. Talk about what you need from your partner right now. No need to bring up the past to prove a point, unless the past is what you’re talking about. All that does is takes you and your relationship away from the very thing you’re upset about right now.
Nothing good has EVER come from blame. Blame is verbal finger-pointing, and no one likes being pointed at—especially when it’s done by someone they love and trust. Beyond that, it’s important to understand that because blame feels so dangerous to the primitive brain, it literally activates the fight or flight response and turns on your partner’s reactivity. No wonder they can’t listen.
Instead, talk about YOUR experience and how you feel. Use I statements (e.g., I felt hurt when you did that…) instead of “you” statements (e.g., You are so selfish…). The former invites your partner into a conversation while blaming pushes them away.
Do you ever feel justified in hurting your partner’s feelings because you want to hurt them as bad as they’ve hurt you? This is a form of retaliation and NEVER works. Treating your partner poorly, or offending from the victim position, will never help them “see the light” and will only spark defensiveness.
What? I know this one’s a bit of a shocker. Apologizing, or should I say apologizing too soon, can do 2 things…. (1) It can end the conversation too soon. When someone wants to be heard and understood, an apology can end a discussion before everything’s had a chance to come out. It can make your partner feel like you just want to hurry up and get to the end and that you don’t really want to spend the time understanding them. (2) Make it all about yourself. Yep. If you apologize too early, you’ll steal the show. I hear couples in relationship counseling do this all the time. They say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…What I meant…” and now the focus is on them.
Instead, squeeze the lemon. Make sure your partner has gotten everything out that they need to get out. Ask them if they feel understood and if there’s anything else they need to talk about.
7. Fixing The Problem
When something is broken, it makes sense that you’d want to fix it. Fixing a problem is logical, and there’s no room for logic when someone is emotional. The next time your significant other is upset about something, don’t try to fix what’s wrong with them—it’ll only make things worse. Instead, be supportive of their feelings by listening closely and asking questions to help them understand why they feel so strongly about an issue. The more support you give them in understanding their emotions, the less likely they are to resort to yelling or name-calling as a way of expressing those emotions.
8. Getting Others Involved
Pulling other people into your relationship problems is a boundary violation through and through. While you might think you’re strengthening your position by enlisting others, all you’re really doing is making your partner defensive and taking the attention away from the real problem-your hurt feelings.
The best way to argue effectively is to focus on yourself and your feelings around the issue. Even if other people agree or have said something about your partner, you won’t get your way by bringing this up.
This is when you try and win a battle by giving in to your counterpart just to be done with an argument. While this may end up buying you some time, you’ll build resentment in yourself, because you’re holding in your true feelings, and resentment in your partner, because they can sense that you’re withholding something from them. Appeasing will never lead to a resolution of any kind; it’s better to let your feelings out and get everything out on the table, even if it’s messy.
10. Using Absolutes
While absolutes like always and never might seem more convincing, they aren’t likely to build consensus. When you use absolutes in an argument, you discount EVERYTHING your partner has ever done right or ANY possibility that he/she could have a different opinion on a particular topic. When I see couples in marriage counseling use absolutes, I can instantly see their partner trail off in defensiveness.
If you use absolutes in your arguments, your partner is going to hear that you only care about what they’ve done wrong. While it may seem fair to prove a point, it will destroy any trust or possibility of healthy debate. If you use absolutes in an argument with your spouse, there is little room for him/her to present a different perspective—or even try and change yours.
Navigating relationship arguments can seem overwhelming at times. Based out of Lakewood, Colorado, Knot Counseling helps these habits seem manageable. Call today for a free consultation.