Do you like to “win” when you argue? Do you like to have your point proven or acknowledged? When it comes to romantic relationships, this is especially the case. You are in fact sharing your life with this person. So, it makes sense that you want your point to be acknowledged and processed by your partner. However, we have to attend to what can often happen as a result.
We get distracted away from the conflict that started the argument to begin with. We get too caught up in feelings of defensiveness. We can’t hear out partners point of view.
There are several possible outcomes that come from focusing on winning the argument. As you can see, none end well and just result in greater distance between you and your partner. If you end a conversation or conflict with your partner and still feel misunderstood, it ended unsuccessfully.
Conflict CAN end successfully and is so important for long term happiness and respect for your relationship. However, you need to know how to engage in conflict in a healthy, productive manner.
There are a few things that you should steer clear from and note as red flags during an argument:
- Are you beginning to feel defensive?
- Is your partner really hearing your pain, anger, hurt, etc?
- Are you noting signs of criticism, defensiveness, or overwhelm on your end or in your partner?
- Are you or your partner shutting down emotionally?
- Does the conversation feel productive?
- Are you focusing on the problem at hand or is it becoming personal?
You have to remember; your partner is not the problem. The problem is the problem.
I know that might sound confusing at first, but you must not lose sight of what started the argument to begin with. At times, conflict can feel so overwhelming emotionally that we engage in what we call “kitchen sinking.” This essentially means that we don’t focus on the issue at hand and end up re-surfacing several points of frustration or anger that we have at someone and lose sight of why we are having the disagreement in the first place. It is easy to get so caught up in the emotions we are feeling that we direct those negative emotions towards our partner.
For example, you might feel hurt after feeling ignored by your partner at a party. But, it is important to remember that the problem is not your partner, it is their behavior at the night of the party. That needs to remain the focus of the conversation.
Many often focus on anger and express anger during conflict. However, what I want for you to do moving forward is to imagine yourself placing your anger at the top of an iceberg above the water. Underneath that water, there are so many underlying emotions that go deeper than your anger. I like to call anger a “surface level emotion.” Generally, if we look closely within ourselves or empathize with our partner, we can see that there is often hurt, sadness, fear, discomfort, etc. Anger is often expressed as a means of self-protection. If we allow ourselves to step away from trying to “win” the argument, we can then return to a place of vulnerability and share that deeper emotion with our partner.
Going back to the previous example, we might want to focus on feeling unimportant or hurt at the party by our partner instead of the anger. This is more likely to allow you to make some headway in ending the argument successfully where both partners feel heard and understood.
Check out these questions you can ask yourself and share your thoughts in the comments.
- What is your “go to” emotion during conflict?
- What do you need from your partner to engage in conflict successfully? (Do you need an opportunity to press pause and walk away if feeling overwhelmed? Do you need to “sleep on it” and return to the conflict at a later agreed upon time? Do you need to take turns communicating so that you can feel reassured that your feelings are being heard?)
- Thinking back to your last argument or conflict, can you identity underlying emotions beyond anger?