Let’s be honest: even when you find your soulmate, you’re still going to argue. The longer you’re together, the more the way they drive will bug you and the fact that you’re never on time will irk them. You’ll argue about what to have for dinner or which movie to watch, and you’ll even have some bigger disagreements about hurt feelings, paying the bills, and having a family. It’s likely that life events will come up that will test your relationship — like the death of a loved one or a tough financial time.
Yes, all couples argue. But it’s the way they argue that determines if their relationship will not only last a lifetime, but will be *happy* for a lifetime (there’s a big difference). Disagreements and, yes, even fights, don’t actually have to be emotionally distressing or negative. The happiest relationships don’t avoid or fear disagreements, but use them to become closer. Here’s how to have healthy fights with your partner and use disagreements to strengthen your relationship:
Make requests, not complaints
If you’re not getting what you want out of the relationship (but your partner loves you and treats you well), you’re likely not asking for it the right way. Make your partner feel like they have the power to make you happy, and then tell them exactly how to, instead of making them feel that they don’t make you happy.
Instead of speaking in absolutes (“you never help pick up around the house,” or “you always pay more attention to your phone than to me”), try saying “I’m feeling a little stressed, would you help me pick up the house today?” and, “it would make me feel so special if we could have a conversation without phones tonight.” We often underestimate our partner’s willingness to satisfy us, and their lack of understanding what actually would make us satisfied.
Acknowledge your partner’s point of view
In the happiest relationships, both people feel heard and acknowledged. It’s not because they never argue, but because when they do argue, they know how to make the other feel listened to. Respond to everything your partner says instead of arguing your own point. Saying, “I’m sorry you feel hurt,” and “my intention was never to upset you,” are good ways to acknowledge and care about your partners feelings, even if you don’t agree with their perspective. You can argue who’s right and wrong until you’re both blue in the face (and I think all of us in LTRs have!), but in the end, feelings matter more than facts when you’re solving a relationship problem.
Don’t avoid disagreements
Couples that are in it for the long haul cannot shy away from arguments or sweep little things under the rug. Get in the habit of asking the big, scary questions ASAP instead of putting them off, and remember that every bad feeling or disagreement should be addressed. Communicate everything you’re feeling with your partner, and listen when they’re communicating to you. If you find that your partner doesn’t voice little things but then blows up with bigger arguments, or that it’s hard for you to bring up issues, make it a priority to check in with each other. Every night or every weekend, commit to asking each other, “how do you feel about our relationship today?” and “what more can I do to make this relationship even better?”
Take turns talking
Couples who know how to argue have mastered the art of give and take — a useful conversation will include both people listening and responding. An unproductive fight will include one person speaking the entire time, or both people speaking without responding to what the other one said. Interrupting means you’re listening in order to respond, not listening in order to understand — wait until your partner is finished talking, and then respond to what they said before bringing up a new point. Don’t talk for too long without giving your partner a chance to respond, and always ask A LOT of questions.
Be curious about reoccurring disagreements
Fights should technically be solved after you’re done having them, but that’s likely not the case. Couples usually have one specific thing they fight about the most, and might even have one time of day or week that they fight the most. Notice the arguments that reoccur, and look for any patterns in your arguing. Do you constantly fight about the involvement of your partner’s family or does your partner’s inability to load the dishwasher bother you more when you get home from work? Together, think of compromises to completely fix argument patterns, and keep arguments in the present (that is, don’t bring up past problems you’ve already talked through).
No matter how mad you get and how much that inner temper in all of us might flare up, resist the urge to unleash your anger in your speech. Think through everything you say so you don’t say anything you don’t truly mean. Don’t label their actions as bad or wrong — instead, just explain why the specific actions hurt you and what about your past or priorities make you care about that specific action. This should go without saying, but absolutely zero name calling under any circumstance.
Know when to pause
Have you ever seen How I Met Your Mother when Marshall and Lily (the OG #couplegoals) have a rule that they can press the pause button on a fight, and return to their normal, happy selves before continuing to fix the problem? Marshily gave us some genius relationship advice (The Olive Theory singlehandedly taught me how to love), but the pause button might be one of their best.
If you feel like a fight is getting too heated, say, “can we revisit this in the morning?” or offer to do something relaxing together so you can both reset your perspective. But here’s the key: whatever it is, make sure you’re taking a pause together. Pauses should not mean not talking at all or spending some time apart (that will only build up anger). They’re meant to remind both of you that you care more about the other person than you do about the fight.
Set mutual rules for your arguments
It might bring back flashbacks of debate team, but there’s a reason that “professional arguing” (if you will) has rules: it keeps the debate productive instead of going in circles, or worse, becoming damaging. You probably have made argument mistakes in the past (all couples do) that you’ve learned from, whether it was a subject that was particularly sensitive for your partner or a statement you didn’t mean. Making mistakes is a good thing, as it gives you the groundwork to potential rules you can make together to argue better and more efficiently. Whether it’s no interrupting or no generalizing, come up with a set of rules that will help you both disagree in a productive way that won’t cause any more hurt.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
Part of being in a happy, supportive relationship means always seeing the best in your partner. This doesn’t mean you can never feel hurt or angry, but it does mean that if there are little things you don’t really care about, let them go and realize your annoyance or anger is about something other than your partner. You should also separate your insecurities from your partner’s actual actions, and make sure you don’t jump to conclusions based on your own fears. A healthy relationship means both people assume their partner is doing the best they can, and not doubting their love or dedication to you.
Learn the right way to apologize to your partner
Because what would a relationship article be if I didn’t mention love languages, right? Whether or not you were wrong is irrelevant — if you’re in a fight, you should want to get back to a happy equilibrium as soon as possible. Instead of just saying “sorry,” put a little extra effort into making your partner feel loved and secure after every argument. If they’re a words-of-affirmation person, tell them how much you love them, or if they’re more acts of service, finish a chore they usually do. A bouquet of flowers or their favorite home-cooked meal also goes a long way in marriage.
Rather than you against your partner, remember that it’s you two against the problem
Fights can be scary — the fights that don’t get fixed are what make relationships end, and egos can get in the way from letting you truly loving someone else selflessly. But here’s the good news, lovebirds: you’ve already made the commitment to stick together through thick or thin, for better or for worse. It may not have been stated in your wedding vows or written into your marriage license, but when you make a lifetime commitment to someone, it means your relationship becomes more important than who’s right and who’s wrong.
As cliche as it sounds, you’re on the same team. Every argument you’ll ever have should be thought about through the lens of how to fix it, rather than how to win it — because when you find the person that you like enough to spend your life with and love enough to standby through ups and downs, do the dirty dishes in the sink or a careless comment really matter? What matters — and will continue to matter through the rest of your lives — is the strength of your relationship and the happiness of your partner.