Rowing and arguments in relationships can be mistaken for passion. In fact some people believe that couples that don’t row have something missing. If you’re in an argumentative relationship though, what can you do?
The idea that if couples never row that they’re lacking passion or commitment is a false one. What lies behind that idea is essentially a rather extreme view of relationships. This is that people can only be either agreeing or arguing, and that never rowing means not caring.
In fact there is another possibility. This is that people can learn to disagree but still respect each other. Due to different circumstances not everyone learns to develop this skill as they grow to be an adult. Taking this inability into a relationship can cause a lot of harm, and see individuals hurt and relationships fail.
So, if you’re in a routine of constant bickering and sniping, or an endless cycle of rowing and making up, what can you do to stop? Here are eight ways to argue less and communicate more.
- First of all stop thinking about your discussion as an argument. Not only do you start with a more confrontational mindset, you also make it harder for the other person to change their mind. Rowing tends to harden peoples’ views, not help to change them. Change your thinking from “winning” an argument to achieving the outcome or the compromise that you would like.
- Think about what the row is about. It’s a truism that rows are rarely about what they’re ostensibly about. Don’t try and guess what your partner is thinking about. Instead examine your own thoughts, and be honest about whether the current subject is an excuse, or a replacement reason to argue. And if it is a way to argue by proxy then don’t do it.
- Be truthful about what you want to get from rowing. Are you looking for an apology or an explanation? Are you trying to get their attention? Are you trying to distract them, or yourself, from something else? Being honest with yourself will let you find a better way – whether that’s a discussion, a change of environment, or something else altogether,
- Learn to let go. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean that you always have to prove it. Don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says you should express disagreement because it’s unhealthy to bottle it up. Instead of bottling it up the alternative is to just let it go, and to put yourself back in charge of your reactions.
- When you are having your discussion keep to the topic, and keep to the facts. So, if the disagreement is about going to a party then don’t bring in previous disagreements about housework or money. Keeping to the facts also means not trading insults or accusations.
- Think about the language you’re using. Don’t make generalisations (“You never …”, “You always …”) and be specific where ever possible. So don’t say “You make me feel stupid”, say “When you _______, I feel stupid”. That makes it clear that there’s an impact on you, but by not making an accusation it gives you both space to talk about it without having to become defensive.
- Take it in turns to talk, without interrupting each other. Sit and listen to what your partner is saying, and think about what they’re telling you instead of what you plan to say next. This works best if each time you speak you start by repeating in your own words what the other person said. This way you can both be sure that you share the same understanding. Feeling listened to, and ironing out misunderstandings, can reduce rowing very quickly.
- Keep things in perspective. A row about replacing the batteries in the TV remote control is a disagreement about batteries in the TV remote control, and not a metaphor for your relationship as a whole. One easy way to check if you’re keeping some perspective is to check if you can see the funny side. If you can see the humour in the situation then you’ve still got your perspective.
If you found this post about rowing in relationships useful why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the less travelled side of relationships and psychology.