Real talk. Couples argue. Even if you really like each other 98% of the time, every couple gets into a snafu or disagreement every now and then. How can you survive the fights and keep your relationship happy and healthy overall?
Here are a few things to avoid:
Criticism. While no partner is perfect, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between a complaint and a criticism. A complaint addresses a specific action of a partner(s). A criticism is more global — it incorporates or implies a negative judgment about a person’s character or personality.
Contempt. Contempt can be communicated through sarcasm, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is harmful to a relationship because it is virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that their partner is disgusted with them.
Defensiveness. When a disagreement escalates and becomes negative and critical, it’s not surprising that someone may feel attacked and thus become defensive. While this is a natural response, becoming defensive keeps a person from taking responsibility for your part in the conflict and essentially blames one partner as solely responsible.
Stonewalling. In relationships where criticism and contempt lead to defensiveness, which leads to more contempt and more defensiveness, eventually one partner tunes out. This stonewalling involves acting as though they could not care less about what the other is saying or feeling, and often looks like refusing to engage in conflict resolution or touch conversations altogether.
And some healthy communication tips for tough conversations:
Validate and affirm the importance of the relationship and your partner to you. Express your hope that you can have an authentic, respectful conversation. Agree on whether you’re okay with taking a break from the conversation if you or your partner get frustrated or feel overwhelmed.
Stay focused on the main theme(s) you want to discuss.
Make sure that your verbal and non-verbal communications are in alignment. Body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and body posture can have a huge impact on the meaning of words. The tone of our voice and the volume you speak in can all change the meaning of your message as well.
Use “I” statements, feeling statements, and be direct. Passive aggressiveness is not effective and can only escalate situations. “I” statements ensure that you are keeping the conversation focused and remaining honest to your own experiences.
Use active listening skills. Use eye contact and avoid texting, being on your computer, or interrupting during an important conversation or argument. Keep an open mind and try to understand your partner’s experience rather than judge it or get defensive.
Paraphrase and ask questions. Use very brief statements to summarize or reflect what the other person has said. This practice allows an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings within the conversation before they grow into their own argument altogether.
Be supportive. Even if you disagree, both partners should support each others’ right to share their feelings and thoughts as well.
Make specific requests for behavior changes you need. Perhaps you need to change some of your own behaviors or perhaps you would like to see a change in the behavior of your partner(s). Maybe you would like a change in how you do something as a couple. Look for a compromise. Keep in mind its important in a new relationship to balance trying new things and communicating what you want.
Afterward, do something fun! After a conflict has been resolved or a tough conversation concluded, it can be helpful to do something fun or enjoyable with your partner(s) to end your time together on a positive note. Although it may feel awkward after you’ve just had a tense conversation, spending some fun time together can remind each other what you like about each other and why sticking it out through tough times and working through disagreements is worth it.
Communication tips taken from Sustaining Healthy Relationships in LGBTQ Communities curriculum.
Enjoyed this post and think more information on healthy relationships would be helpful for you or you and your boo? Check out Sustaining Healthy Relationships, an online workshop created by Carolina students, for Carolina students.
If you’re afraid to communicate your needs or express a disagreement with your partner(s) for fear of what they might do, your relationship may be struggling with more than some problematic communication patterns. Check out the resources at safe.unc.edu which can help you sort through whether your relationship may be abusive and offer you options of what you can do if it is.