“You always do this; you’ll never change!”
“How could you?”
“Would it kill you to think about someone else for a change?”
Fighting with your partner is never fun. In fact, it can be downright painful if you tend to fight dirty. When it comes to disagreements large or small, having a productive argument requires effective communication.
Henry Benson, PhD, a licensed psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, said effective communication is the main ingredient in a healthy relationship and helps couples have more successful arguments. A “successful” argument is one that ends with both parties feeling heard and keeps the relationship moving forward toward a solution.
While every couple is unique and relationships are complex, these eight tips for better communication can help make any disagreement more productive.
1. Stick to the facts.
When having a disagreement with your partner, it’s important not to get swept up in your feelings about the problem, but rather, direct your attention to what’s actually happening.
“Focus on specific facts of the situation. Both in your perception of the situation and when expressing your concerns, consider the clear, objective reality,” said Dr. Benson. “Granulize concerns into very specific details. Doing this allows for a deeper understanding of the problem and increased recognition of having some degree of control.”
2. Stay on topic.
Both parties should try to stick to the problem at hand. Bringing up unrelated issues or past grievances just muddies the water.
“Avoid bringing up or responding to other concerns. If your partner attempts to go off-topic, consider a statement such as, ‘That’s something we can talk about at some point, but let’s try to resolve this first.’”
3. Choose one takeaway for your partner.
It’s easy to think of a laundry list of lessons you want your partner to learn in an argument, but the best strategy is to prioritize one key point. Give that point the most time in the conversation.
“What is the most critical objective of the conversation? What is the one point you want to be remembered when the conversation is over? Present this point clearly and concisely. Avoid focusing on blame or attacking,” said Dr. Benson.
4. Listen. Like, really listen.
Active listening is key to healthy communication in any type of relationship. Listening fully to what your partner says before thinking of your own response will ensure you don’t miss anything they say.
“The most significant elements of healthy communication are listening and validation,” Dr. Benson said. “Listen with compassion and the desire to understand — it demonstrates respect and genuine investment in the relationship. When a person feels genuinely appreciated and understood, they feel safe enough to be willing to consider options and to be able to focus on mutually acceptable solutions.”
5. Be willing to negotiate.
About those mutually acceptable solutions, Dr. Benson recommended approaching tough conversations with a willingness to help your partner meet your needs. In some cases, letting it go is best, but when fixing the issue really matters, be prepared to help along the way.
“In negotiating a problem, the critical element is effective listening. Understanding your partner’s concerns and fears allows you to offer solutions that are more likely to be mutually acceptable,” said Dr. Benson. “Be fair to yourself as well. Consider your values and maintain self-respect. Recognize that you also deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. Ask yourself, ‘How much will this matter to me next week or next month?’ This can decrease the emotional intensity of the moment. If it is going to remain a critical issue, you need to remain firm. Consider what you can do to make the solution easier or more likely to occur.”
6. Be solution-oriented.
Sure, sometimes it just feels good to vent and tell your partner how angry, upset or disappointed they made you. In fact, Dr. Benson believes not all disputes require a solution; some just require a good vent session. However, this shouldn’t be the point of every argument. When appropriate, both partners should look for a mutually beneficial solution and make a plan to execute it.
“Focus on solutions. Remember, this is a partnership. How can you work together to address the concerns? Discuss the positive aspects and benefits of what you’re suggesting and solicit possible solutions from your partner as well,” Dr. Benson recommended.
7. Communicate your needs before a misunderstanding.
There’s no crystal ball that will reveal what your partner is thinking, and they don’t have one for you, either. Bummer, right? As a result, it’s crucial to make your wants, needs and expectations clear to your partner throughout the relationship.
“Don't assume that your partner knows what you want or how you feel. Yes, we would love for our partner to understand our needs, but not being able to read your mind doesn't mean that they don't love and care deeply about you. It’s so much easier to just ask for what you need rather than waiting to see if you'll be disappointed. Express feelings honestly and calmly, focusing more on your reaction rather than blaming your partner for causing your feelings,” Dr. Benson explained.
8. Just be nice.
It should go without saying that kindness and consideration during a hard conversation can go a long way, but sometimes it’s hard to be nice when your partner has hurt you. Even if you have to think of it as killing them with kindness, being loving during conflict is always more effective than yelling and quarreling.
“Be gentle, respectful and easy to talk to. Try not to judge, threaten or attack. Remember first and foremost that you love this person, and how important it is to you that they are not getting hurt. Show genuine consideration and compassion.”
If you and your partner are interested in couples’ therapy, consider making an appointment with a psychologist to get support and learn more. Call 904.376.3800 to speak with a Baptist Behavioral Health patient coordinator.