Most couples do it – and it can be positive. Here’s how to get it right
In the heat of an argument it may feel good to let your other half have it. And afterwards it could feel like a weight off your chest. But have you actually reached a resolution? Or is there a better way to argue than shouting and name-calling?
Relationship therapist and couples’ counsellor Lorraine McGinlay says that arguing is normal and healthy — but not if it involves screaming and shouting.
‘Arguing itself isn’t negative,’ she says. ‘It’s about being able to explore your relationship and set boundaries. The key thing is that it’s about how you argue.’
Lorraine says that shouting and screaming aren’t only bad for your blood pressure, they can also mean the argument just escalates and neither party actually gets to listen to the other’s complaint.
‘There are also situations in which you really should not argue,’ she says. ‘Don’t argue when you’re tired or when alcohol is involved — that’s a big no-no.’
Lorraine also suggests that arguing in front of children should be avoided.
‘Your relationship and how you argue is the first example your children will see,’ she explains. ‘Arguing can raise a child’s anxiety levels. If you yell in front of them you’re showing them that it’s OK to be impulsive rather than rational, which can have an impact on their own relationships in later life.’
Lorraine adds, however, that putting on a front and arguing behind closed doors can have an equally negative impact on children.
She says: ‘They will still hear and know what is going on, so taking the argument underground doesn’t always help. The key thing is to argue positively, teaching children how adults can listen and then reach a resolution.’
Another thing parents should not do is ask a child to pick sides.
Lorraine explains: ‘Don’t say to your child, “Mummy was right, wasn’t she?” after an argument. And don’t ask them to choose. Ensure you make it clear the argument is not your children’s fault and ensure they see at the end that you have settled your differences. If they see that adults can reach a resolution, that’s giving them a positive example of healthy arguing.’
To argue healthily, first you need to agree on a time and place for your discussion.
Lorraine says: ‘Once that’s agreed, set a timer on your mobile phone and give each of you, say, two minutes to speak without being interrupted. That way you can’t get defensive or shout over each other — you must both listen.’
A tip is to use ‘I statements’ rather than ‘you statements’.
‘So instead of saying: “You’re so annoying when you don’t do the washing-up…’’ begin with “I feel annoyed that you don’t do the washing-up,”’ Lorraine explains. ‘That way the other party will feel less under attack and be more likely to listen.’
She stresses that one thing we often get wrong in arguing is that we set out to ‘win’ the fight.
‘Good arguing is about compromise and negotiation,’ she says. ‘It’s not about winning the fight. It’s about thinking “what do I want my partner to hear?”’
She advises that you shouldn’t be afraid to argue with your partner, and if they won’t listen, or won’t stop shouting, you should be concerned.
Lorraine says: ‘If you’re experiencing anger or your partner shouting at you, but you’re too afraid to speak back, that’s going into the realm of abuse. A woman shouldn’t be afraid to argue with her partner — not arguing leads to contempt, and contempt is one of the biggest predictors of divorce.’
So next time you’re arguing, think carefully about how you do it.
One way of approaching it, according to Lorraine, is thinking of ‘facts, feelings and fair requests’.
Lorraine says: ‘Start with a fact: “I’m angry that you don’t wash up.” Then move on to a feeling: “It makes me feel let down or put upon.” Then end with a fair request: “Would you please try to share the washing-up with me?”
‘No relationship or person is perfect but if you follow positive steps when you argue, you will find there are healthy ways to disagree and reach a resolution — without shouting or screaming.’
Edited by Julie Cook
Lorraine’s tips on how to argue:
Agree on a time and place to argue
Don’t argue when you’re tired or under the influence of alcohol
If you must argue in front of children, show them that you can listen and reach a resolution, and don’t blame them or ask them to pick sides
Use ‘I statements’ rather than ‘you statements’
Don’t be afraid to argue – being too scared to speak up can indicate an unhealthy relationship