5 signs you and your partner’s arguments are unhealthy | plmubl.com

5 signs you and your partner’s arguments are unhealthy

Everyone has arguments. Maybe you and your partner bicker about money, household chores, or parenting styles. Perhaps you can’t stand their tone of voice while discussing logistics or your skin crawls when you talk about politics.

While it may feel, at times, like you have a shared identity, you and your significant other are two different people. “Even though you’re together, fell in love, and maybe built a family, that doesn’t mean you’re the same person or have all of the same views and opinions,” Lisa Brateman, a New York City–based therapist and the author of What Are We Really Fighting About?, says. That’s not a bad thing: With distinct personality traits, you can learn from each other and potentially have an easier time coping with stressful events and solving problems (as they say, two heads are better than one). However, it does mean that you will, inevitably, butt heads.

If you fight the right way — you’re open to your partner’s perspective and truly listen to their concerns — your disagreements can help you understand each other better and grow as a couple. But we humans are complicated, messy creatures, which means we don’t always behave rationally. As a result, relationship fights can quickly get combative and cruel (and I think it’s safe to say nobody ever resolved one by giving their loved one the cold shoulder.)


Sparring with your SO doesn’t have to be a lose-lose situation, though, so if you feel like your arguments are more destructive than constructive, it might be time to change up your style. After all, as Brateman puts it: “It’s not that you fight, it’s how you fight.” Here are five glaring clues that your word wars are doing more harm than good — and some easy-to-implement tips for fighting fair.

1. You blame each other.

Let’s pretend you asked your partner to be ready to leave at 7 p.m. to get to your dinner reservation on time. It’s 6:55 and they’re still in the shower and you are… fuming. Ten minutes later, they hop out of the bathroom and, with a tone, you say, “Why aren’t you ready yet? You knew we were supposed to leave 10 minutes ago!”

Should they have managed their time better? Perhaps, but Brateman says blaming is one of the more common toxic behaviours she sees in unhappy couples. “Blame is: It’s not me, it’s you,” she says, and regardless of whether or not your partner messed up, when you come at them with that attitude, they’ll likely feel attacked and go on the defence. The result: Instead of sorting out your conflict, you probably won’t resolve anything and will continue to spat.

People throw blame at loved ones over all kinds of issues: Maybe you feel like your person sucks at scheduling quality time with you, they never pick up your phone calls, or they’re god-awful at planning ahead (see shower example above) — and you can’t help but say, “Why on earth did (or didn’t) you do that?!”

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The fix: Use “I” statements. For example, instead of saying “You never return my phone calls” — which puts all of the blame on the other person for seemingly avoiding you — say something like, “It makes me feel shut out when I don’t hear back from you” or “I miss talking to you. When can we talk?” Bratemen suggests. Or, back to the dinner reservation example: “I get really anxious when we’re late to things.” When you focus on how your partner’s behaviour affects you, you’re more likely to get a productive, empathetic response rather than a snippy defensive one.

2. You employ the silent treatment.

Another not-great yet common fighting style is freezing your partner out — a.k.a. giving them the silent treatment. This looks like refusing to engage with them or giving the shortest replies possible (like the terrible “K” or spine-chilling “fine”). Oftentimes, people go silent or nudge off a hug because they’re so overwhelmed with their own emotions, Brateman says, or they’re afraid that if they reengage, the fight will escalate.

One partner may also give the cold shoulder to covertly let the other know they’re not pleased with them. For the person on the receiving end of the chilliness, it can feel like punishment, Brateman adds. It’s code for, “I’m not even going to waste my time talking to you,” she says. It can trigger fear, low self-esteem, and guilt — and sometimes, due to the lack of communication, confusion about what the hell’s even going on.

If either of you feel too angry or overwhelmed to talk, that’s fine. Just take a break and let the other person know that what you need right now is space. Ask if you can reconvene in 20 minutes or, if need be, a couple of hours. “That way, you’re still not talking, but you’re letting them know you care and you want to connect but you just don’t feel capable of doing it now,” Brateman says.

3. You share every thought that pops into your head.

Though some people (not pointing any fingers here) may presume that disclosing every single one of their frustrations and concerns means they’re bringing their authentic self to the relationship, this pattern can actually be pretty harmful, especially in the middle of a heated argument, Domenique Harrison, founder of the Racial Equity Therapist in Los Angeles, says. By unleashing all of your thoughts and emotions at once, you can overburden your partner, Harrison says.

For example, maybe when discussing your upcoming holiday plans, you bring up how they dropped the ball last year, which caused flights to get too expensive so you couldn’t visit your family. And by the way, you feel like you never have an equal say in these kinds of decisions. Plus, it’s not fair to even be talking about this because you had a horrible day at work and now you’re exhausted because you were up all night taking care of your baby while they slept.

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This kind of relentless venting sesh can be intense and convoluted — and tough to make sense of (it’s a lot for anyone to process!). You have a better chance of hearing each other if you keep it simple, Harrison says. If you notice you’re getting long-winded (hey, it happens), pause and ask your partner, “Did you get all of that? I know it was a lot,” or agree to zero in on one problem at a time. Let them know it’s okay to take a time-out if they catch you going on and on (and vice versa). If you’re on the receiving end of the word vomit, Harrison recommends saying, “Hey, I’m getting a little overwhelmed here, and I don’t want to miss what you’re saying, so can we slow down?”


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4. You’re a bit of a wise-ass.

I think we can all agree that it feels good to be right — but most people don’t enjoy being around know-it-alls. Harrison sees this a lot: People will pride themselves on being correct and factual and use that as a weapon in arguments. For example, maybe you bring up how you feel like your partner drank a little too much at your friend’s Friday wedding and they retort, “Well, actually that was on Saturday.” Or they call you out for spending $500 on sports tickets (which was way more than you agreed to!) and you can’t help yourself from righting their wrong: “No, it was only $450.”

Excessively correcting your partner can make them feel like they’re not being seen and heard or that their thoughts aren’t as important as yours, Harrison explains. (Plus, you might come off as entitled — and who finds that attractive?)

The healthier approach is to let go of being right (I know, I know) and prioritise connecting with each other instead, Harrison advises. She says: “You can be right, but is it so important that you prove your rightness all the time?” (You guessed it: It’s not.) The smarty pants has to take a step back: Sure, maybe deep down they still think they’ve got all the answers (and, hey, maybe they do!), but sometimes the other person just doesn’t need to hear it — especially if it doesn’t help or solve an argument, Harrison says.

5. You lash out — big time.

If you’re arguing and suddenly someone says something over-the-top gutting, your relationship may have what Harrison calls a retaliator. For example, say you’re in a row about moving into a bigger place. You mention you’re sick of living in a tiny one-bedroom and your partner hits you back by targeting one of your deepest insecurities: that you make less money and don’t carry your weight — even though you split rent 50-50, buy groceries, and cover your cat’s vet bills. It stings! These types of insults, over time, can destroy trust and relationship satisfaction.

The thinking here is, “I was hurt so now I’m going to hurt you even worse,” per Harrison — so you (or they) say something unnecessarily mean. This aggressive behaviour typically stems from unresolved issues, she says: Maybe you accidentally made your partner feel inadequate in the past or a traumatic experience from your childhood or a previous relationship bubbled up. That’s why Harrison says it’s crucial to identify what’s really driving you (or them) to snap like that. Get reflective — explore the reasons for lashing out (this is one of those times journalling or an alternative self-reflection practice can come in handy).

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“Once you have clarity about what’s going on, you can do something different,” she adds. For example, maybe you have a track record of being vicious to your partner when they make social plans without consulting you first. If you know this about yourself, you have a better chance of identifying your emotions in real time and changing course. You can be like, “Oh, shoot, I’m doing that thing again where I get worked up and ultimately say things I regret.” Then you can excuse yourself to calm down instead or even say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, can we take a break?” instead of getting swept up in the fury and attacking your partner like you usually do.

If you try to bicker better but things stay volatile, consider seeing a couples therapist. They can shed light on your fighting styles, how past arguments made you feel, and, most importantly, what you’re even squabbling about in the first place (which isn’t always obvious). Brateman says couples therapy “is about interrupting your patterns so you can make different choices.” You shouldn’t leave feuds feeling like you just went to war with the person you (usually) love the most — but rather as though you came together and worked through a really hard issue. You’re gonna fight — you might as well get good at it.

This article originally appeared on SELF.

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