No two people are exactly the same, no matter how much they love each other. Disagreements are an inevitable part of any relationship—fights aren’t.
When you and your partner disagree, these are ten ways I’ve learn to solve disagreements with gentle discussion instead of yelling and hurt feelings.
- Make sure you’re actually upset. Some fights aren’t about a disagreement at all. Instead, the same, predictable circumstances make us vulnerable to conflict. Do your fights always occur at the same time? In the same place? For example, many couples fight at the end of the day. Women tend to talk more when they’re tired; men, less. As a result, women can feel unloved and men feel annoyed even though they are trying to communicate the same emotion to one another. If you can find a pattern to your fights, do everything in your power to fix the conditions that make a fight likely.
- Remember it isn’t always about you. It’s difficult for me to remember that I am not the only thing that makes Adam upset. When we first got married, I would tearfully plead for him to tell me what I had done wrong any time he was mildly grumpy. Usually he wasn’t grumpy at me at all—at least, he hadn’t been before I pestered him about being grumpy. Sometimes your partner may just be hungry or thirsty. Other times, something outside of the home has legitimately upset him. (Adam and I have learned to tell each other, “I’m grumpy, but not at you,” when we’re in bad moods to prevent fights.) So bring him a glass of water and a snack, offer him a listening ear, and don’t start a fight over nothing.
- Find the right time and place. When you and your partner do have a real disagreement, you don’t have to discuss it right away—especially if you are in public. Wait until you are calm and rational. (Many men feel manipulated when a woman starts to cry during an argument, even if she can’t help it.) Make sure you don’t have an audience. It’s okay to set an appointment to have a disagreement later.
- Watch your language. Swear words are one thing, but the words “always” and “never” can actually be far more hurtful in an argument. Don’t tell your partner he “always forgets to take out the trash” or he is “never around when you need him.” Provide specific, concrete evidence about what is making you upset.
- Be honest. I used to think being a good woman meant suppressing my needs and desires. It doesn’t. Those bottled-up emotions will inevitably come out to the surprise and frustration of your confused partner. When you have a disagreement, let your partner know how you really feel from the start. Don’t make him drag it out of you.
- Fight for your own side of an argument. When you love someone, it is tempting to assume you know what he wants. It’s good to consider your partner’s preferences when making decisions, but not when you’re trying to have a disagreement. As newly-weds, my parents ended up with a hideous, lime green china pattern they both hated because each of them was too busy trying to choose what he or she thought the other wanted. It’s much easier to have a rational discussion when each of you stand up for your own opinion. When you don’t, your mutual frustration can turn even a minor disagreement into a major fight.
- Stay on topic. When I’m hurt, I like to start listing all the little things Adam has ever done that make me slightly upset. I might take thirty minutes to tearfully tell him his breath smells bad, he forgot to take out the trash, and I hate how much time he spends on the computer—when all I really want to say is that I feel a little neglected. Take the time to identify what’s actually wrong before you start a discussion with your partner.
- Respect your partner. Always try to honor your partner’s masculinity, even when you disagree. Remember that the same things that make women teary-eyed may make men angry and irritable. Honoring his masculinity also means you should tell him how to honor your femininity. Adam now calmly talks to me like a rational adult, even when I’m blubbering. He knows I don’t mean to cry when we disagree, so he graciously ignores my tears.
- Keep it between the two of you. A woman should never undermine her partner in public—in front of him or behind his back. Set a time and place to have a difficult discussion where you won’t have an audience. When you’re upset with your partner, keep your issues to yourselves. (When you resolve your conflict, you are going to be much more forgiving of your partner than your friends or family will be.) If you need help, limit yourself to one sympathetic advisor. Don’t gossip about your partner, just ask for guidance. The more people know about your disagreement, the more likely it will turn into a drawn-out fight.
- Be willing to apologize. We all know we should apologize when we’ve done something wrong, but that doesn’t make it any easier. You shouldn’t apologize for starting a discussion or for things you haven’t done wrong, but be willing to admit when you are at fault.
A woman doesn’t have to resign herself to losing every disagreement to keep peace in a home. Learning to disagree without starting a fight is one of the greatest gifts she can give to her partner—and herself.