How to Communicate During an Argument: 7 Quick Rules

stop being defensive

As a San Diego relationship and couples counselor, I frequently run into couples who argue often. I never recommend arguing…ever. Instead, I recommend couples reaching for one another and resolving the issue in a loving discussion. If you have found yourself caught in an ongoing cycle of arguing, back and back bickering, and sometimes even yelling, you can take a proactive stance and try to decrease the battles. Here are some quick tips to decrease the damage that emotional blows can do to the relationship.

Avoid bringing up the past

When your partner comes to you with a concern or is upset, avoid bringing in the past as an example, to prove your point, or in an attempt to resolve the issue. If the past is brought up the argument just has more fuel to keep it burning. Bringing in other issues can ignite a variety of emotions and the discussion can get off track. Make a mental note of your concern and bring it up later in a new discussion. Stay on topic to resolve the specific issue at hand before addressing other unresolved issues.

Use positive pointing language

The way couples phrase their words during an argument can impact how either partner reacts. Pointing language is language specifically directed at your partner, and often uses phrases such as ‘You never,” You should,” or “You always”.” When pointing language is used, partners can become defensive and tend to automatically tune out what is being said. This may lead to a continued cycle where each partner does not feel like he or she is being heard. Instead, use positive language that targets yourself, not your partner (for example, “In my experience” or “I feel”). By expressing to your partner how you feel, instead of how he or she is, your partner will be less reactive.

communicate during an argumentBecome a “we”

Arguments are a you vs. me battle and almost always have the goal of one participant winning and the other losing. Relationships, however, are not built on opposition. Meaningful relationships consist of two players who are on the same team and should work toward a common goal. Try to make the goal be achieving resolution, rather than winning. Resolution cannot be accomplished without active participation of both partners, so do not forget your partner’s desires. Think to yourself, How can we solve this so that we will both be happy?

Claim your own role in the problem

No one is perfect, yet no one likes to admit when he or she is wrong. Do not be afraid to admit, both to yourself and your partner, when you have made a mistake. By acknowledging your role and claiming your involvement in the argument, you show your partner you are willing to work with him or her. Remember, It takes two to tango.

Calm your nerves

If your arguments seem to get out-of-hand and escalate rapidly, calm your own nerves so it won’t rub off on your partner. Calm your nerves by deep breathing, slowing down how you talk, and lower your tone. Reassure your partner that you care about them and that you are working on calming down. The more your partner knows you are working to help improve the relationship, it will help calm him down as well.

Don’t leave

Most couples try to leave to avoid conflict and many counselors will suggest to do so if the conflict begins to get heated. The problem with leaving is it can create more panic in your partner because feels as if you don’t care, and they have no idea when you are going to return. Leaving, or simply shutting down and going quiet, leaves the relationship with an unresolved wound. Instead, express to your partner that you really want to resolve the conflict and that you feel stuck when you get overwhelmed. Avoid leaving (as long as there is no violence in the relationship…if there is violence, absolutely LEAVE and seek safety) and reassure your partner that you are going to stick around and that they matter.

Bring down the wall

Many couples distance themselves, put up a wall, and sleep in different rooms after a long drawn out fight. The distance in the bond lingers around and both patiently wait for the other to make the first move or to reach out and connect the bond. Instead of waiting for your partner or sleeping with the distance, reconnect the bond by giving your partner a hug, say sorry, or acknowledge the pain. The quicker you bring down the wall, the less discomfort you will have to sit through.

About Jennine Estes, MFT

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653