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 healthy communication.
Henry Benson, PhD, a licensed psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, said good communication is the main ingredient in a healthy, functional relationship and helps couples have more successful arguments — meaning one that ends with both partners feeling heard and keeps the relationship moving forward toward a solution.
While every couple is different and relationships are full of many complexities, these eight tips for more effective communication can help settle almost any dispute — or at least make it more productive.
1. Focus on the facts at hand.
When arguing with your partner, it’s important not to get caught up in your emotions surrounding the problem, but rather, turn 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 deeper understanding of the problem and an increased recognition of having some degree of control.”
2. Don’t fall off topic.
Both parties should stick to the issue at hand. Bringing up unrelated problems or past grievances merely 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. Offer one takeaway for your partner.
It’s easy to come up with a lengthy list of lessons you want your partner to learn in an argument, but the best strategy is to narrow it down and prioritize one key point. Give that topic 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 to your partner — like, really listen.
Active listening is key to effective communication in any type of relationship. Listening completely to what your partner says before considering your own response will ensure they have your full attention.
“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. Give a little and negotiate.
When it comes to those mutually acceptable solutions, Dr. Benson recommended navigating tough conversations with a willingness to help your partner meet your needs. Sometimes it may be best to let it go, but when it’s crucial to truly fix the issue, be prepared to assist 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. Stick to the solution.
Sure, sometimes it’s just nice to vent and tell your partner how upset or frustrated they made you. In fact, Benson believes not all conflicts require a solution; some just require a good, ol’-fashioned vent session. However, this shouldn’t be the focus of every disagreement. 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 before a misunderstanding occurs.
There’s no crystal ball that will reveal what your partner is thinking, and they don’t have one for you, either. Too bad, right? That said, it’s important to make your needs, wants 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. Simply be nice.
It should go without saying that consideration and kindness during a tough talk can go a long way, but sometimes it’s hard to be nice when you feel hurt or slighted. Even if you have to think of it as killing them with kindness, being loving during a disagreement is always more effective than bickering and yelling.
“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 are concerned about your relationship, consider speaking with a psychologist to get support and learn more. Call (904) 376-3800 to speak with a Baptist Behavioral Health patient coordinator.