Awhile back, my husband and I were trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. Pasta? Fish? Maybe some take-out? Rather seamlessly, the conversation progressed to who cooks dinner more often, which led to a discussion about the overall division of household labor. Somehow, within a matter of moments, we were in the midst of a full-blown argument about who was the last person to scoop the cat box. Suffice it to say that dinner was never made, and both of went to bed hungry, angry, and confused. Whether you’re trying to improve communication with your partner, a friend, your child, or a coworker, read on to discover five argument pitfalls and how to avoid them.
- Instead of sticking to the topic at hand, you bring up old hurts and conflict: Do you ever find that one moment you and your spouse are trying to figure out who’ll pick the kids up from daycare, and then the next moment someone’s shouting something like, “you’re just like your mother! I’m never going there for Thanksgiving again!” That’s likely because a word, or tone of voice has brought up reminders of old hurts and conflicts. Stick to the actual problem you’re trying to solve in order to keep tempers in check. If there are other issues that need further discussion, wait until a different moment, and bring them up separately.
- You hold everything inside until you explode: A lot of people who seek help in my office believe that they should never express any negative emotions. Much like a boiling pot of water, if the pressure isn’t relieved, we tend to bubble over. If you find that you have difficulty expressing your wants and needs to those around you, don’t wait for the negative feelings to explode all over your stovetop, try communicating assertively instead.
- You immediately go on the attack: Particularly if you were raised in a household where interpersonal problems were greeted with a lot of yelling and screaming, your first impulse might be to (in a rather shouty way) point out all the ways that the other person is wrong. Take a breath, take a minute, and listen to the other side of the argument. You might find that the other person has some valid points. If this is something that you struggle with, check out these helpful tips to tame your temper.
- You don’t take a moment (or two or three) to calm yourself down: Most of us know that the silent treatment is not an effective way to solve a conflict. However, there’s a middle ground between ignoring someone and an all-out verbal war. If you know that you’re in danger of losing your temper, tell your partner that you need a time-out, and that you’ll be back to discuss the problem more calmly in five (or ten, or twenty) minutes. If this is a frequent occurrence, sit down with your partner, friend, or coworker ahead of time, and let them know ahead of time that this is how you plan to manage your temper in the moment so that they’re not caught off guard.
- You play the blame game: Do you treat arguments like a game, where there are winners and losers? No one comes out on top when that’s the goal. A disagreement is rarely all one person’s fault. The more you are able to empathize and see the other person’s perspective, the easier it will be for you to more effectively resolve conflict. Remember what your actual goal is here; getting your needs met and maintaining your relationship, not winning at all costs.
A lot of folks believe that people in healthy relationships don’t argue at all. In fact, it’s not the frequency with which folks argue that predict a relationship’s demise, but rather how they argue. So, the next time someone forgets to scoop the cat box, use the tips above to have a healthier, more productive disagreement.
Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation. Visit my website for more information.