Argue at the Right Way

Everyone knows just how taxing a fight with a loved one can be on us emotionally. But new science is showing just how bad arguing is for our physical health. A 20-year studyfrom the University of California, Berkeley, has started to pinpoint some of the negative long-term health effects of arguing. Researchers found that while “outbursts of angerpredict cardiovascular problems… shutting down emotionally or ‘stonewalling’ during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff muscles.” These findings come just a couple years after a Dutch study concluded that frequent arguing can lead to premature death. Even though it may feel like arguing is just a part of life, the way we react to conflict and choose to communicate at these stressful moments is actually a matter of life and death.

Fortunately, there are a few very important, highly effective practices we can implement in order to not feel overwhelmed when a conflict arises. All of these practices involve getting to know ourselves and our partner better. When we understand the specific patterns and behaviors that cause us to fly off the handle or completely shut down, we can learn to take pause and take more control over our actions and reactions. We can avoid building cases against our partner and start living more mindfully, thereby removing some of the drama and intensity from our arguments and communication. Here are five key tips for arguing the right way:

1. Be mindful

Practicing mindfulness can help in almost any situation in which we feel triggered emotionally. Mindfulness teaches us to slow down in the moment. Although, this is most challenging in those instances when we’re provoked, it’s essential that we take pause and avoid reacting out of conditioned responses. Instead, we can take a breath (or take a walk or count to 10) in order to calm down, so we can pay attention to what’s going on inside us. When we name the feelings we’re having, we help tame them. Rather than lashing out or ruminating on our thoughts, we can notice that we feel angry or hurt without judgment or justification.

Once we’re in a calmer state, we can choose our responses based on the outcome we desire. As Dr. Pat Love puts it, we can feel the feeling but do the right thing. In addition, practicing patience and compassion toward ourselves helps us do the same with our partner. When we’re operating from a mindful place, we’re better able to tune in to our partner and see the situation from his or her unique perspective.

2. Be open to being wrong

In every relationship, it’s mutually beneficial to be open to the possibility that our perception isn’t necessarily right or wrong but just different. For example, if your partner didn’t call you while he or she was away on a short business trip, you may feel hurt. You may then start to tell yourself stories about why he/she didn’t call. You’ll start to listen to a negative inner dialogue or “critical inner voice” coaching you about what’s going on. “She’s tired of you! She’s happy to get away.” Or, “He doesn’t even think about you. He’s so inconsiderate.” By the time your partner comes home, you may be ready for a fight. However, your partner’s experience is likely very different from yours.

When you attack your partner for everything you’ve been imagining, he or she will most likely retaliate, accusing you of being ridiculous, too sensitive, or needy. Unfortunately, a confrontation in which neither person is willing to hear out and empathize with the other tends to have a snowball effect. If instead you own your reactions and present your feelings without blame or righteousness, your partner is more likely to be able to take in your experience and empathize with your feelings.  You can then be open to hearing their experience and seeing how it looked from their perspective.