Bustle magazine recently asked me to comment on signs of immaturity in relationships. And it got me thinking about the maturity needed to argue like an adult. Think about it, even the most grown-up of grown-ups can act like toddlers during a fight. And, if you’ve ever had a screaming match or a meltdown, you know it’s not cute. Plus, it typically doesn’t end well.
Fighting like an adult might be one of the most important relationship skills that you can learn. For one thing, arguing with your partner is inevitable. Secondly, research indicates that 69% of all relationship conflict in unresolvable. So that means you will be having these arguments again and again. So, if you haven’t learned already, it’s time to figure out how to argue like an adult.
How to Fight like a Grown-Up
These are not the rules of fight club. These are the rules of civilized adults who want to have a good relationship with the person with whom their fighting. Because I’m a couples therapist, I’m focusing on fighting with your partner but these can be used in any situation.
- Focus on sharing rather than persuading
If you’re trying to win, you’ve already lost. Fighting like an adult is not about getting your partner to agree with you. It’s about sharing your emotional experience, hearing theirs, and coming up with a solution that works for BOTH OF YOU. Not just what you think is best. You need a solution that actually meets both of your needs. Which means you need to share your emotional experience and then listening to your partner share theirs.
- Use “I” Statements
“You” statements almost always trigger people to go on the defensive. Why? You-statements focus on the other person’s thoughts and behaviors. They are often blaming and involve a lot of verbal finger-pointing. I-statements, on the other hand, focus on your emotional experience. This is a much more mature way to argue and generally leads to lower levels of conflict.
- Stick to the topic at hand
We all have our grievances but going off topic and bringing up things that happened years ago is just going to derail your conversation. You will BOTH end up frustrated. So stick to the topic at hand. If you have other grievances to air, bring them up another time.
- Take turns
This is not a one-woman (or one-man) show. Your opinion is not the only one that matters. Hearing your partner’s side of things is EQUALLY important as conveying your side of things. Which means you need to listen instead of formulating your rebuttal as they talk.
You know how toddlers totally lose it? It’s because they don’t know how to calm themselves down. So take a deep breath. Ground yourself using your senses. Take a time out. Do what you need to do to calm yourself down so that you can act like an adult.
- No name calling
Don’t be a four year-old. You’re better than that. And your relationship deserves better than petty name-calling. Besides name-calling is easy to do and hard to take back. So have present you be nice to future you and avoid name calling all-together.
- Avoid the silent treatment
Your partner is not going to magically read your mind and know why you’re mad and how to fix it. Part of being an adult is learning how to calmly convey what upset you and what you need in this moment. If you need time to figure it out, that’s fine. Let your partner know that you need time to process this and give a time when you can revisit this conversation.
- No storming off
You can absolutely take a time out. But there is a big difference between saying “I need a break from this, let’s resume this conversation after dinner” and storming off. You do NOT want to storm off. You want to act like an adult and ask for space. This is parting of being assertive about getting your needs met. Now assertive doesn’t mean aggressive. Leave the aggression for sports.
- No tantrums
You are no longer in diapers. You cannot lose it because you aren’t getting what you want. Go back to step 5 and self-soothe. And then calmly tell your partner what is bothering you and what you need from them in this moment.
- Treat your partner with respect
This is someone that you love (or at least like!). Treat them like you genuinely care about them. You expect them to speak to you calmly and respectfully. So do that for them as well.
Need more help adulting? Check out “How to Nail Adulting”