All couples disagree sometimes. It’s a natural part of sharing your life with someone else – you’re individual people with your own feelings, fears, and emotional triggers, and sometimes you’re not going to see eye to eye.
But disagreeing doesn’t have to signal a huge fight, resentment, or feeling invalidated. Learn to speak with each other respectfully and you’ll be able to discuss even the most thorny issues in a mature and ultimately helpful way. Get started by following these top tips.
1. Use “I” statements
Using “I” instead of “you” is a vital skill. Say for example you wish your partner would call when they’re going to be late from work. “I worry when you don’t call, and it would be helpful to know when you’re due home” is very different from “you never call me or let me know where you are!”
“I” statements mean taking responsibility for your own feelings and acknowledging them. They let your partner hear what you’re feeling so they can consider it. “You” statements on the other hand make your partner feel attacked and blamed.
2. Leave the past in the past
This one is almost a cliché by now – and with good reason. Bringing up the past is a surefire way to turn any disagreement toxic and leave both parties feeling resentful and wounded.
Whatever happened in the past, it’s over now. Bringing it up again will only make your partner feel like any past mistakes are going to be held over their head forever more.
Instead, focus on what is happening right now. Put your energy into resolving your current disagreement in a healthy way, and once it’s resolved, let it go.
Feeling unheard is painful for anyone. Most disagreements come about because one or both parties don’t feel heard, or feel like their feelings don’t matter.
Take the time to listen to and validate each other’s feelings. If your partner comes to you with a concern, give them active feedback with statements such as “it sounds like this makes you feel anxious, is that right?” or “from what I understand, this situation makes you feel worried about what’s going to happen.”
Using statements like this lets your partner know that you understand, and have heard their thoughts and worries.
4. Mind your tone
Sometimes in a disagreement it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it. If you’ve had a hard day at work or the kids drove you up the wall, it’s easy to snap at your partner.
Try to mind your tone when you can. Of course sometimes one of you will have a bad day and speak before you think, and that’s ok too. Simply acknowledge it and tell your partner “I’m sorry I was distracted” or “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
5. Take a time out
Don’t be afraid to take a time out if a discussion looks set to escalate into something more acrimonious. If you wait till one of you says something you’ll regret, it’s too late to go back and have it unsaid.
Instead, agree with each other that during any discussion, either of you can ask for a time out. Go get a beverage, take a short walk, take some deep breaths or do something to distract you. You can even take your time out together and agree that you’ll discuss your issue again when you’re both ready.
A time out puts you and your partner’s wellbeing above the need to finish a fight.
6. Know when to apologize
Learning to apologize and mean it is a vital skill for any relationship.
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Maybe you made a wrong assumption, or didn’t have all the facts. Perhaps your partner just didn’t understand your point of view. In a marriage, it’s more important to resolve things together than it is to be right.
If you make a mistake, swallow your pride and tell your partner you’re sorry. They’ll appreciate it, and your relationship will be healthier because you’re focusing on building bridges instead of scoring points off each other.
7. Remember you’re a team
In the midst of a discussion it’s all too easy to get caught up your desire to make a point. But don’t lose sight of the fact that you and your partner are a team. You’ve chosen to share your lives and be open and vulnerable with each other.
Remember you’re on the same side. Make your shared aim of a happy, harmonious marriage and a beautiful life together more important than being right. Always keep that aim in mind when you’re having a discussion with each other. This is your loved one; talk to them with the respect they deserve and ask them to do the same for you.
Good communication is key for a healthy relationship. Use these tips to learn to speak respectfully with each other and you’ll both benefit from feeling more loved, more heard, and more valued.