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How to have better arguments with your partner

It may surprise you to learn that when we experience severe emotional pain, expressing our pain is typically the last thing we do.

Relationship arguments are usually so unpleasant and painful that it’s normal to expect that, with more experience, we may finally get past them. However, considering human nature, this would be a foolish objective to set for ourselves: rather than trying to completely eradicate disagreements, our best option would be to find a better form of disagreement.

Arguments sometimes begin when we are confronted by our partner’s seeming extreme selfishness, intransigence, or downright nasty behavior. This usually happens quite unexpectedly.

It is quite tempting to respond with just as much vigor. After all, we are not a pushover. We must hurt back because we have been harmed. As they have caused us pain, we shall inflict suffering upon them.

Frustrated couple
How to have better arguments with your partner

There can be differences in how we choose to cause the pain. I think we’re going to yell a lot. or shut the door. Maybe we should just pout our way through this one. However, the fundamental idea remains the same: we must punish because we have been harmed.

However, at this point, we can wonder what our true goals are. We are not, after all, attempting to impose arbitrary justice or punish for the sake of punishment. This isn’t the headmaster’s office or a criminal court. In a close relationship, what we really desire is something far more meaningful: we want the other person to love us with all of their heart and with kindness. We’re acting as though they don’t exist since breakfast, slamming the door and calling them twats.

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It may surprise you to learn that when we experience severe emotional pain, expressing our pain is typically the last thing we do. To expose our wound to the one who caused it and to appear weak in front of the person who has, it appears, taken extreme advantage of our weakness feels simply too embarrassing.

This is very natural, but it also doesn’t help at all because the purpose of a relationship is to connect, not to provide emotional safety. Even while it could make us feel untouchable for a little while, exacting revenge never makes it more likely that we will find the love and understanding that we’ve come to expect as a partner.

We may think about a different, albeit rather counterintuitive, strategy: precisely when we’ve been hurt by our partner, we should, rather than retaliating, make what we could call a “Dignified Avowal of Hurt and Fear.”

Instead of being enraged, we might try to shift the focus and make a double admission to address the root of the problem. Let’s start with this: I’m really offended that someone I emotionally trusted would say or do that to me. Furthermore, we could say, secondly (and this requires true courage): “I’m so afraid that I should be emotionally exposed to someone who would seem to hurt me like this.”

The spouse should pause to consider this. They’ve not been insulted or harmed back in the customary manner, which usually stops them in their tracks and starts a never-ending cycle of assault and retaliation.

We are being truthful and with dignity. We’re not yelling at them, but we’re also not pleading. We are not acting in a particularly forceful or weak manner. We are not crawling, nor are we punching. We are simply motionless, expressing in a tone of pronounced self-possession our true anguish, fear, and nakedness.

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Too often, disagreements turn into drawn-out and, to onlookers, quite ridiculous arguments because neither party will acknowledge that they are unhappy rather than cruel. The disagreement has nothing to do with when to depart for the airport or who gets to clean the dishes. It’s because each party feels misinterpreted and unloved in their own unique ways, yet they are reluctant to express it verbally.

In a more mature society, we would all become much better at owning up to our mistakes with dignity and learn about disputes in school for at least four years—they’re just as difficult and significant as mathematics. We would calmly acknowledge that while we are strong and capable in most aspects of our lives, we are scared and hurt right now in the relationship arena. Despite this, we are brave, mature, and committed enough to love to dare to tell our partner as much in the most direct, unadorned, and heartfelt way possible. We could end up saving a ton of time.

 

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