How to stop destructive arguments
Have you ever said or heard these phrases in the heat of an argument…
-“You never help out with the kids (chores, trash, dishes, etc)!”
-“Why are you always late?”
-“Why don’t you ever touch me or want to have sex?”
-“I never said that! You said that!”
-“Jeez, you’re so sensitive. You’re just like your mother.”
Most of us have said or heard these phrases at some point in our lives and it doesn’t feel good to be on either side of these phrases. But what’s wrong with them?
I like to think about John and Julie Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, discussed in their book: The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Here’s the four killers to relationship happiness:
1. Criticism: sounds like “You always…” or “You never…” or “Why can’t you….” These phrases start with the word “you” which will put anyone on the defensive. So no starting a sentence with the word “YOU”.
-Also, the words “never” and “always” are sure to trigger your partner and actually probably are not true. They probably don’t “always” do something wrong. Give them credit for what they do do and you’ll get more of it.
-The word “why” can also make people feel like they have to defend themselves. When you ask “why” they’re more likely to explain and defend them selves.
INSTEAD: use a “gentle start up” as Gottman says. This may sound like: “Hey, I’d love it if you/we could…” or share what you appreciate about something they’ve done before such as, “It’s so great when you….I love that, thank you.”
2. Defensiveness: this can sound like, “I didn’t say that” or “I do help out, all the time” or “Well you’re not so perfect either.” Ouch!
INSTEAD: take responsibility for what is yours by saying something like: “You’re right, I forgot to do…” or “I can see how you could feel that way, I’ll work on that”.
3. Contempt: this might be things like rolling your eyes when your partner says something you disagree with, making huffing sounds, etc.
INSTEAD: listen with curiosity to what your partner has to say, put yourself in their shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from. Also, practicing self regulation in the moment can help, such as counting to 10 (slowly), taking a few deep breaths or even telling your partner that your feeling “flooded” and need to take a 20 minute break from the conversation.
4. Stonewalling: this looks like withdrawing emotionally or physically from the conversation with telling your partner what’s going on for you.
INSTEAD: Ask for a time out/ break if you feel flooded, but tell your partner when you’ll be back to talk and make sure you initiate coming back and talking calmly. Taking some deep breaths can be helpful here too and remind yourself that you want this talk/ relationship to work out.
If you find these 4 Horsemen rearing their ugly head contact me and we’ll figure out how to have more peaceful, productive conversations and discussions. Remember you don’t have to figure this out alone. Contact me today: [email protected]