No one enjoys it, but an argument every once in a while can bring great benefit. If you argue well, it adds depth and intimacy to your relationship. How can you make sure that you’re heard and make the other person feel heard at the same time?
1. Pick the right time
Do you find yourself in an argument late at night, when you’re both tired, settle to pick up the conversation later on. If you’ve been frustrated or angry for a while already, let the other person know you’d like to set a time for a talk. Passions sometimes run high when you’ve been saying ‘yes’ for too long, when you felt like ‘no’. Don’t let it simmer, talk about it before you explode.
2. One step at a time
It is hard not to start ‘piling up’ things during an argument. One annoyance leads to the other, and before you know it, the argument becomes muddled by the amount of issues. Try to stick to one topic at a time. If you want to, you can make a list of all the other things you want to discuss – later on.
3. Weigh your words
Express yourself carefully. You love the other person, so they are worth making an effort – even, or especially, when you’re angry. Make sure you convey an “I-message”: I feel that, I would like you to, it makes me feel… It makes you much more successful in conveying what the problem is. Try to avoid ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘very’. They are like a red rag to a bull.
4. Make sure you really understand them
We often act on assumptions: ‘They probably meant this or that’. But as the French writer Anaïs Nin put it: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ So make sure you really understand what the other person meant to say, for instance by telling their story in your own words (an exercise from the marriage counselor’s office). It can do wonders for communication.
5. Hold hands
Another exercise from the marriage counselor: if you’re in a fight, sit next to eachother. Grab the other person’s hand. Take turns and tell each other what’s going on, how you feel. At first, you’ll probably feel the urge to withdraw your hand, especially when the other person is tough on you. But please keep trying to explain, find the right words, until you can keep holding hands.
6. Take the dog for a walk
Marriage counselor Roefke Carmiggelt: “When my clients keep feeling overstimulated, I hand them a drawing of a dog. It’s a dog that often bursts for a wee. When clients get into an argument at home and fear they’ll lose their temper, they ‘take the dog for a walk’, which means: take the drawing out of the room, and cool down. It works!”
7. Discuss your needs
Hoping for another person to do something, and then getting angry when they don’t, isn’t fair. Make yourself heard, and discuss what you need and desire. For instance, say: ‘We’re going to my mom’s now. I’m driving, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t criticize my driving.’ It’s even better if you intend to respond patiently if the other person does however comment on your driving.
Text: Catelijne Elzes - Photo: Demi Deherrera