When you’re in a relationship — whether it’s a few weeks old or many, many years — arguments will happen. After all, you have strong opinions on certain matters, as does your partner — and you may not always see eye to eye. Don’t just hurl any insult (however creative) that pops into your head when you’re in the heat of the moment, though.
In fact, it turns out that how you fight can have a huge effect on the future of your relationship. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family looked at how 373 newlyweds handled conflict in the first year of marriage. Researchers found that when both partners engaged in “constructive behaviors” (like saying nice things, discussing the problem and actively listening), they were actually less likely to split, even 16 years later.
On the other hand, the pairs who exhibited “destructive behaviors” (like yelling, insulting and criticizing) had a higher chance of divorcing down the road. Basically, yelling and slamming the door aren’t exactly effective strategies.
Interestingly enough, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that same sex couples tend to be more upbeat during disagreements than their heterosexual counterparts. The researchers said the same sex couples that participated in the study were more likely to use affection and humor but less likely to use hostile emotional tactics when arguing.
But just because you argue with your spouse from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean you two are doomed — it might depend more on how happy you two are in general. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships looked at how 734 straight couples — some married, some cohabitating — dealt with conflict. The couples that said they were satisfied were able to come to a resolution, even if they used negative behaviors (like blaming and anger) during an argument. But for those in unhappy relationships, resolving an issue proved to be challenging, regardless of how they communicated their frustrations.
That being said, there are some easy strategies you can use to communicate smarter with your S.O., which could prove useful the next time you’re ready to blow a gasket. Below, find expert-backed tips to help you do just that.
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1. Manage Your Expectations
First things first, no one’s relationship is immune to a little arguing from time to time — so don’t stress if it’s not all sunshine and butterflies 24/7. “Fights are part of every relationship,” says Rachel DeAlto, a relationship expert who counsels couples on Lifetime’s "Married at First Sight." Some of the most common topics couples argue about are what you’d expect, says Lynn Saladino, PsyD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships. Money and sex (or lack thereof) are at the top of the list.
2. Take Time to Cool Off
DeAlto tells couples she works with that a conflict doesn’t have to be resolved immediately. Basically, you should reconsider the whole notion of never going to bed angry. “People feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to get divorced or break up [if we do that],’” says DeAlto, “but the thing is, sometimes you have to go to bed angry to wake up calm.”
3. State Your Intentions
Before diving right into an argument, identify what your goal of starting it even is, says Saladino. Think about it: Do you just want to let your partner know something’s bugging you, are you looking to settle a score or do you really want to resolve an issue? Whatever the case, be upfront about your intentions. “Stating that you want to get something off your chest can be helpful,” says Saladino.
4. Avoid Playing the Blame Game
When it comes to arguing, make it about you. “I think the biggest thing when you start the conversation after calming down is to not place blame,” says DeAlto. “Anytime that you say, ‘I need to talk to you about what you did wrong,’ your partner is immediately going to go on the defensive — and then you’re creating another argument.” Instead, focus on how whatever it is you’re disagreeing about made you feel.
5. Jot Down Your Frustrations
If the thought of telling your partner what’s really on your mind makes you break out in a sweat, pick up a pen. “Some couples have a really hard time communicating verbally,” says Saladino. In that case, get the ball rolling by writing down what’s bothering you. Sharing that with the other person may help spark a productive conversation, says Saladino.
6. Create a Safe Space
“One of the things I encourage all my couples to have is a ‘safety zone,’” says DeAlto. This would be a space where you can comfortably tell your guy or gal how you feel. “The safety zone does come with rules,” says DeAlto. “You have to be cognizant of how your words will affect your partner, but you also have to be able to have that space for your partner to hear you out.”
7. Schedule Regular Check-ins
Saladino will sometimes have patients set aside a time every week to touch base with their partner. “[I tell them to] schedule it so they don’t push it off and so that resentment doesn’t build up,” she says. Saladino adds that the conversation doesn’t necessarily have to be negative. One thing to try? Ask your partner what you can do to make their life better. Hopefully the favor will be returned.