Have you ever had the experience when after having an argument with your partner, you think back on what was said, and feel proud of how you handled it? Or do you typically feel more righteous and indignant, and maybe even just madder? Or maybe regret what you said or yelled or insulted?
I know I sometimes can’t think about what I wish I would have said (positively) until I am some minutes or hours away from the argument, and after the fact. I wish I could argue more in the moment in a way that holds integrity and grace.
This requires knowing how and what I feel, think, want, desire; and finding a way to communicate that to my partner, without totally collapsing on me, or inflaming them, and no matter how they respond. And then of course, it means being able to hear them speak their peace about their own experience as well, without personalizing or striking back.
Typically, any one of these pathways toward differentiation can present challenges that are difficult to get through.
Here are two examples of how one might handle the same argument, from two different perspectives. And some considerations to reflect on, after.
One partner might say the following:
“Though it is hard to admit . . . during an argument with you, sometimes I purposefully become less talkative or avoid eye contact in order to punish you for not agreeing with me, or I pout. If you ask me why I am not talking, I usually deny that I am being quiet, yet deep down I know that I am purposefully choosing to talk less. I realize I am feeling angry and hurt by something you’ve said, and I am drawing in to protect myself. It’s really hard for me to admit this out loud to you. What I find amusing is that the more willing I am to concede to myself or you that I am thinking and feeling this way, the harder it is for me to keep it up. I have discovered that, for me, pouting can really only exist if I pretend it’s not happening. Once I admit it; even just to myself; I find it difficult to maintain because deliberate pouting is not how I want to behave or deal with conflict.”
Somebody else (or the same partner at another time!) might say the following:
“Of course, I get quiet when you disagree with me. If you weren’t so rude and loud, I wouldn’t shut down. I feel like you never listen and always talk over me. You have to change your tone of voice. You’re always so angry or mad about everything. You’re so negative and the first thing out of your mouth is no. You shut down all of my ideas. I don’t want to talk to you when you’re like that. You never care about what I think and always talk down to me. Like the other day when you blew up at me. You don’t realize how your behavior affects me or the kids. You have anger problems you need to deal with, it’s your fault we can’t talk about anything.”
Which of these arguments is more familiar to you?
Which indicates taking more personal responsibility for one’s behavior?
Which invites you to be more defensive in response?
Which is more emotionally vulnerable?
Which is more emotionally open?
Which invites discussion from the partner?
Which is more emotionally intelligent?
Which is more defensive?
Which represents how you would like to be talked to about something that’s been difficult with your partner?
Consider how you talk to or argue with your partner.
To have more connection and ease in your relationship, have the intention to become more differentiated. More aware of your own thoughts, feelings, wishes, desires. More able to express those things to your partner, even if you don’t think they’ll like it or agree. More capacity to hear your partner express those same things, without reacting.
If you or someone you care about is having difficulty arguing well, please contact me for a couples therapy appointment.