Tips to make arguments productive

  1. When your partner talks, LISTEN as though you are expecting to learn something new.
  2. Remember that hearing the other’s point of view or complaint does NOT mean agreeing with them. 
  3. If one person wins the argument, the relationship loses.
  4. If you find yourself coming up with rebuttals while the other is talking, you are being reactive, hostile, or defensive.  Stop!
  5. Ask for a time out (at least 45 min for men) if your pulse goes over 98-100 beats per minute.  When physiology spikes, your brain shifts the majority of it’s functioning to fight or flight.  Use app on smart watch or buy an oximeter ($30) at any drugstore, and set alarm to tell you when pulse goes over threshold. 
  6. You cannot will yourself out of a fight or flight state, but slow breathing can drop arousal.
  7. Do not attack other person’s character (‘you’re lazy”), or name call (“you’re a bitch”), or generalize (“you NEVER do x”).
  8. If one person gets defensive/hostile, try to shift discussion to what happened that set it off.  Very tough to do in real time, but possible.  The ability to communicate without those reactions is more important than the subject at hand. 
  9. Try to respond with calm, (ideally compassionate) voice/tone. 
  10. Avoid hostile/defensive body language. 
  11. Do not move tangentially into proving the other wrong by dredging up historical hurts.  Our mind stores information like a file cabinet with each drawer holding information organized by emotion.  (Ever notice that when laughing about good times with friends, more memories surface, or when feeling hurt by spouse, many, many examples of historical hurt come to mind).
  12. Try to maintain a compassionate internal state toward your partner. 
  13. Listen to learn why the other would take the action they did, nonjudgmentally.  Most of the time people make decisions, not out of malice, but out of fear/misunderstanding. 
  14. Give the benefit of the doubt, and verify assumptions (no mind-reading).
  15. Most importantly , when responding to partner, first find an understandable part of their view and acknowledge it verbally before offering your differing stance. 
Andrew Hurley

Andrew Hurley, MA, LPC has been a couples therapist for over 15 years, but more importantly, he has been happily married for over 15 years. So he knows a thing or two about productive arguing.

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