Throughout the course of any relationship, you may find yourself in a situation where you and your partner get into an argument. While some might see a lack of arguing as a sign of a healthy and successful relationship, this is not necessarily the case. Rather, arguments should be seen as opportunities for change, according to Heidi Ricci, an instructor at the University of New Mexico and professional mediator of thirteen years.
“When we go in, we're mad at each other, we’re arguing. And usually, that’s the top layer. Then there’s the sublayer — what's actually going on are the emotions, so we can start to recognize that. ‘I'm feeling anxious. I don't like this, but something needs to change. We need to figure out what that is.’ And this is how we have to sit down to have a conversation,” Ricci said.
People learn how to argue and develop our own argument styles based on the arguments that occurred around us in early life. This means that everybody is used to arguing in a way that feels familiar, but our own argument styles may not be in line with those of our partners, according to Ricci. Mutual respect of each other’s needs during an argument is crucial, as is explicitly communicating those needs.
Typically, we learn to argue from a place that is defensive and therefore reactive rather than responsive. To Ricci, this is one of the common pitfalls many people experience while having an argument.
“How to deal with (arguments) is active listening. So, active listening means I'm listening and responding. I'm giving good eye contact, I have more of an open posture,” Ricci said.
Ricci’s years as a mediator have taught her that validating feelings goes a long way, even if the two partners are not in total agreement. Ricci said that rather than using the statement “I understand,” it is instead important to listen and validate the grievances and feelings of the partner, even asking them to elaborate on those feelings.
Áine McCarthy, interim director at the UNM Women’s Resource Center, and Michelle Dugan, a campus advocate at the WRC, both agreed that arguments are not about winning or losing.
“The goal is not for you to win the argument. The goal is to come to a supportive agreement, and that really changes how you approach these types of things,” Dugan said. “One of the really toxic things that can happen is people will argue to score points, and so they’ll say the most hurtful things, or they’ll repeat their stance without listening to the other person’s stance, or they’ll draw up every fight that’s ever happened in the relationship. That kind of arguing is really toxic because it’s not working toward resolving the current disagreement.”
Dugan also pointed to the idea that one person shouldn’t be constantly compromising to keep the peace — instead, there should be room on both ends for healthy compromise.
Another vital thing to consider is how you feel during an argument. While arguments are often tense and uncomfortable for most people, they should not force you to question yourself or your entire relationship each time they occur, according to McCarthy.
“It’s great if you can fight without making the other person wrong or insulting them, like your entire relationship doesn’t get called into question every fight, or your self-worth doesn’t get drawn into it, or you don’t feel insulted,” McCarthy said.
While arguments are natural and normal, McCarthy emphasized the importance of giving and taking space to process emotions. She also noted that certain issues should not be part of frequent arguments. These include core values, things and people that are important to you, and boundary violations.
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According to McCarthy, finding the way to healthily communicate during disagreements is key to any relationship.
“You can just talk about the issue at hand without fighting dirty, if you will. In healthy relationships, conflict is part of a normal day, and it doesn’t even have to be a bad day,” McCarthy said.
Sierra Martinez is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org