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How to Prevent Arguments with the People You Love

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Medieval couple Abelard and Heloise have a heated conversation.

A few nights ago, Adam was three hours late coming home. He didn’t call. He didn’t e-mail. He didn’t text. So I sat at home getting more and more worried. When he walked through the door, I was overwhelmed by gratitude and relief. But if I was so happy to see him, why was my first instinct to start a huge fight?

In relationships, some things really should make us angry—but not everything. A husband who rarely takes nights out with friends, and who loaned me his smartphone, probably doesn’t deserve my wrath. These are the lessons I learned that night about choosing not to start an argument.

  • Count to ten. The advice is old, but good. When you’re upset, pause long enough to think about what you’re going to say next. You’re much less likely to say something you’re going to regret.
  • Keep your emotions straight. Many fights aren’t about anger. Instead, they’re about worry or guilt. This is why many relationship counselors tell their patients to make “I feel statements.” Tell your husband, “I felt worried when you got home late last night” or “I feel guilty when you do the dishes.” It may sound silly, but identifying your real emotions can prevent unnecessary arguments.
  • Be honest about what you want, not what you think he wants. Most of the time, it is a joy to give the people you care about the things they enjoy. But when you’re trying to make a decision—where to go out on Saturday, what movie to see, or when to put the kids to bed—that same selflessness can cause a lot of confusion and unnecessary conflict.
  • Choose your battles. Some things just aren’t worth arguing about. Pet peeves are a great example. There are a half dozen things about Adam that really drive me crazy. But starting an argument about the way he slurps his cocoa isn’t going to change his behavior—it will just cause unnecessary hurt feelings and conflict.
  • Count your blessings. It’s easier to choose your battles when you remind yourself of all the things about your husband that don’t drive you crazy. The way he does the dishes or lets you sleep in in the morning. In the grand scheme of things, staying out a little too late one night pales in comparison to all the mornings Adam lets me sleep in while he gets up with the baby.
  • Forgive and forget. If you choose not to argue about something, that choice should be final. After all, something that isn’t worth fighting about today probably isn’t worth fighting about tomorrow. Avoid the temptation to save up a list of little irritations to bring out next time you have an argument.
  • Don’t be afraid of a disagreement.  There are times when you or your husband has really done something worth disagreeing about. In the long run, you can’t prevent a disagreement by hiding your hurt feelings or ignoring conflict. In fact, the longer you hold your tongue, the more likely it is that you’ll eventually have a blow-out. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with people you love. Just remember that disagreeing doesn’t mean starting a fight.

How do you prevent arguments in your house? Let us know in the comments.

3 responses »

  1. Hey, I would have been exactly the same – relieved, but definitely angry!

    I think the advice about counting to ten is good here. Yes, he was wrong but I bet he knew that when he walked in the door… the thing that matters is that later on, when it’s not three hours after he should have got home, you talk about it.

    That’s why for me I would extend the ‘be honest’ advice and say, be honest if you don’t both react the same way to a situation. When I read this post I immediately thought ‘if Fed came home three hours late, I’d be LIVID!!’ Then I realized that, if *I* came home an hour or two late (maybe not three!), he wouldn’t be so bothered. It doesn’t make him better-adjusted or more naturally forgiving than me – it’s just that he’s not a worrier, and I am. And that means he has to be a bit more careful than I do about keeping in touch if he is running late – but it doesn’t matter because of course there are other issues where it is the other way around and I have to be extra careful to listen to what he needs and adjust how I act accordingly.

    I dunno if there is a rule in there … maybe somewhere! Something about adjusting to each other being more important than anything else.

  2. Absolutely!


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