Sometimes, we don't think about how much of a difference a single conversation can make. Over the years, I have learned that arguments are about the content, the words exchanged, the nuances of body language, and most importantly, they are a part of our story. What do I mean by that?
Arguments are sometimes the result of our own upbringing and/or our own close friendships. We bring our knowledge of all our previous arguments into these conversations, and the habits of responding to conflict that we have learned, but we never have this conversation with our partner.
How do WE want to fight?
I get it. It's not a question that would come up typically when talking to a therapist, but it's a conversation I believe every couple should have. Close friends as well, for that matter. Every person on earth responds to upsetting situations in different ways, even if there might be similar patterns. Some people struggle if another person needs a break before discussing a difficult situation - but if they need time, the truth is, they do probably know themselves best, and they probably DO need time.
We can't assume we all have the same knowledge and ability of expressing emotions and thoughts. DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) teaches us to use all sorts of interpersonal skills to navigate these situations. Yes, skills are helpful! However, this is PREVENTION.
What does it look like when I get mad?
It's a question worth considering for yourself, so you can explain it to others. Knowing your personal style is important. Thinking about how you respond to anger can help you create a plan that takes care of you, so that when you have an argument with a significant other, you know HOW to take care of yourself. As a therapist, I can say that for myself, it takes time to reflect on this to be able to communicate what you feel to others.
What is off-limits?
Again, it might seem simple, but deciding as partners what is and is not allowed in an argument allows us to extend respect and mutual agreement that we are working for the betterment of the relationship, rather than allowing each other to bring up topics and / or previous situations that just aren't relevant to the current argument.
When will we talk about a serious issue?
When I walk in the door after a day at work, I sometimes don't have energy to discuss really difficult topics - everyone experiences this at times. Ask for consent to discuss a serious issue - what I call Opting-In, "Do you have the space to discuss this topic?" If the individual doesn't have the energy, instead of saying "Later," set a date and time. This ensures that both parties feel heard.
This is just a brief overview of some of the things that are worth considering as we argue with others in our life. We will all have disagreements, but having a conversation about HOW we want to fight can make a world of difference.
That's it for today! Be well!
Lauren Millerd, LCSW (CT), LICSW (MA)