Arguments in relationships are common, and their effective resolution defines the strength of the relationship. Understanding and empathising with a partner’s feelings and fostering closeness are crucial. This blog post provides practical strategies to resolve conflicts, improve communication, and nurture emotional intimacy. It also underlines the importance of professional help in overcoming recurrent disagreements.
Understanding And Resolving Relationship Arguments
The road to a successful relationship is often paved with disagreements and misunderstandings. In relationships, arguments are common and completely natural. The strength of your relationship isn’t defined by an absence of disagreements, but by how you address them when they inevitably arise. In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of curiosity and closeness in resolving arguments and strengthening your bond with your partner.
When your partner expresses dissatisfaction or annoyance, it helps to get curious about their feelings – even, or perhaps especially, if you think they’re overreacting. And if you’d like your partner to understand your reactions better, it’s worth reflecting on how close (or not) you’ve been feeling recently, and what helps or hinders that sense of closeness. Let’s look at some strategies to navigate common relationship arguments, and foster empathy and understanding between you and your significant other.
Relationship Arguments: Harnessing the Power of Empathy
Have you ever debated with your partner about who’s right, fair, or justified in being upset? It’s a common situation, because it can be very frustrating when you feel like your partner is overreacting. However, focusing on each other’s reactions, rather than the underlying issues, prevents you from resolving what’s really causing the conflict.
Consider this: If a child approached you feeling upset, would you dismiss their feelings as unreasonable? As adults, we know children need understanding and empathy, even when their reactions may seem disproportionate. We do our best to comfort and reassure our kids, and to work out what they need to feel better.
Fostering Empathy and Understanding
Similarly, successful relationships between adults are built on a foundation of empathy and compassion. One way to develop more empathy for your partner is to recognise that they have a small child inside them, just like you.They might not show them to you in the most obvious ways, but they have insecurities and vulnerabilities too. We all do.
Some of your partner’s reactions to things are bound to seem unreasonable to you – just like some of yours are going to seem unreasonable to them. As a general rule, the weirder your partner’s reaction seems to you, the bigger the opportunity it provides for you to learn more about them, and come to understand them better.
When your partner is upset, rather than dismissing them as overreacting, ask them about it from a place of genuine compassionate curiosity. You can say something like “I can tell this really bothers you, and I want to understand why it’s such a big deal for you.”
When you show curiosity about why they’re bothered, these moments can become opportunities to enhance your understanding of your partner. When you take your partner seriously like this, you’re more likely to get to the bottom of your disagreements, instead of getting sidetracked by pointless comparisons. Ultimately this will contribute to you resolving disagreements, rather than escalating them.
When Communication Breaks Down in Relationships
Getting really curious about what’s going on between you can help you to break frustrating communication patterns.
Are you familiar with that “here we go again…” feeling that flares up during a heated conversation? You don’t want to go down that same old path, but you’re losing control of the situation, and it almost feels like a fait accompli.
Rather than surrendering to repetitive, unproductive communication patterns, it helps to pause and reflect. When you get that feeling, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself: what exactly is going on here? See if you can rewind a bit and spot the exact moment when things started going wrong. What was happening? How were you feeling? What was the word, or tone, or look that changed the atmosphere?
If you’re calm enough, consider asking your partner some similar reflective questions. Often, arguments in relationships ignite when one person hears something that stirs up a fear or worry. Being open about these fears with your partner can help both of you to understand each other’s reactions better.
When Conversations Turn Into Arguments: A Personal Example
For a long time, conversations with my husband would turn into arguments after he said or did something that triggered a fear in me.
For example, I carried a deep fear that my husband secretly resented me for expecting him to do his fair share of the cooking, laundry, etc. I knew in my head that our arrangement was fair and we were both happy with it, but when I’m stressed, my inner child – who believes that a “good mum” takes care of everyone – pops up. So on a bad day, I might interpret him sighing at the washing basket as an attack on me.
But when I’m curious about my reaction, I can make the link, and share it with him. So in the style of Brené Brown’s excellent suggestion “The story I’m making up about this is…” I might say something like “I had a strong reaction then. I think because I was imagining you resented me…”
By saying it like this, you can own your part in it, so it doesn’t come across like an accusation. And if your partner is open to it, you can ask them the same kinds of questions about moments when they lose their cool with you too.
Cultivating Closeness with Your Partner
If either of you has shown a lack of curiosity about your relationship recently, it might be time to evaluate how close you’ve been feeling. Just like infants need a secure attachment to their caregivers to explore the world, adults need a sense of closeness with their partners to discuss relationship dynamics. When we don’t feel safe, we don’t feel free to be curious – and this is as true on a psychological level in adulthood as it is on a physical one in childhood.
To nurture a stronger bond with your partner, consider the six ways of attaching described by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté in their book, Hold Onto Your Kids. These are as useful for understanding adult relationships as they are for thinking about child development.
We can think of these ways of attaching as levels of intimacy. The order might surprise you!
- Senses – Physical proximity, as registered through smell, sight, sound, or touch.
- Sameness – Identifying with your loved one, feeling you have plenty in common.
- Belonging and Loyalty – The ways we say (and feel) “I’m yours and you’re mine”.
- Significance – How we feel that we matter to (so will be kept close by) our partners.
- Feeling – Warm, loving, affectionate feelings lead into emotional intimacy.
- Being Known – Feeling seen, understood, liked and accepted just as we are.
If you want to feel closer to your partner (and freer to talk more openly about your relationship), this list is a great place to start.
How much have you been touching each other lately? How do you show your partner that they matter to you? Do you open up to them about your thoughts and feelings? And how do you make them feel understood and accepted just as they are when they do the same?
Overcoming Arguments in Relationships
Arguments are part of any relationship, and how you choose to address these disagreements significantly impacts your bond with your significant other. Developing curiosity about your partner’s feelings, and fostering closeness between you, can help you both to understand each other’s perspectives and emotions.
If you’re struggling with arguments in your relationship, consider seeking professional support through relationship coaching or therapy. I can support you to inject positivity back into your relationship, resolve resentments, improve communication and feel closer again. This will equip you with practical tools to navigate these sometimes turbulent waters.
Dealing With Arguments In Relationships: Consult An Expert
Remember, to maintain a successful relationship you don’t need to eliminate disagreements, but to manage them effectively. Getting stuck in a cycle of conflict can be really painful, so please don’t struggle on alone. Through relationship coaching and/or therapy, we can work together to get your relationship back on track. Click here to get in touch and find out more.
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