Everyone who has been in a romantic relationship has argued at some point. Whether it’s loud yelling and screaming (I hope not). Silent glares and sniffs of disdain (I’m guilty of this). Or rational, adult debate over someone’s intentions or actions. Arguing is going to happen. But constant fighting can cause you to question your relationship. Or love itself.
There is one type of argument a relationship is better off without. Useless relationship fights. Fights over nothing. These are what I call “potato chip arguments”. This is when the argument is over something ridiculous. Like one person went to the grocery store, grabbed potato chips for themselves, and didn’t get any for the other person. Potato chips aren’t worth fighting over. In this- and all potato chip arguments- you’re really arguing over something else.
Determine what the argument is actually about
No one should be so annoyed over potato chips they are screaming. Or bringing down another person. If you’re arguing over potato chips, there is an underlying cause.
In the case of the potato chips. Are you concerned the other person doesn’t care about you? Do you feel they are thoughtless? Is your underlying concern that they don’t love you enough?
Arguments often have many layers. And the surface layer is usually the one we’re most vocal about. And the least important. Dig deep and figure out the underlying cause of the argument.
Determine is your underlying cause is a reason for concern
If you’re just having a bad day and snapping, then the “real” cause is just you’re having a bad day. This isn’t anything an argument can resolve. In fact, it’s simply going to make the whole situation worse.
In other cases, there is a real underlying issues behind useless relationship fights. Back to our potato chips. The real argument is that one person feels the other one isn’t thoughtful. Or is selfish. Or isn’t invested enough in the relationship. These underlying feelings should be addressed. Ask yourself if the feelings are valid.
Don’t just use one example. Is there a pattern of behavior that indicates your feelings are valid?
Take accountability for your actions, words, and tone
It’s very easy to fall in the trap of thinking the other one is being completely unreasonable while you’re being the soul of sweet reason. This is a normal human reaction. We understand what WE’RE feeling. Making our actions seem completely reasonable.
At the same time, we often ascribe intentions to other people that aren’t there. Making their actions seem to be ridiculous or purposefully vindictive.
Try to look at your actions from a different point of view. Is your facial expression expressing disgust or anger? Is your tone appropriate?
Is your past part of the problem?
Emotional intelligence and good relationship practices don’t just happen. Lots of us carry stuff from their past. Perhaps you reacted as a child to your parents by being stubborn and defiant in an attempt to stand up for yourself. Perhaps you even had a reason to. But reacting this way to your partner is going to cause problems.
Look at your past and how your behavior in relationships was formed. What did you see as a child? Or you modeling that behavior as an adult? Is it a good behavior to model?
- Ask yourself questions:
- What is it about the situation that makes me angry?
- What is the real issue here?
- What, specifically, do I want to change?
- What things will I do (and not do) in order to help bring about the change?
- Focus on the positive. Next time you’re arguing about potato chips, try to remember that they made the run to the grocery store in the first place. So you didn’t have to.
- Silence your negative inner voice. A lot of arguments erupt because a negative inner voice. I, for example, have a very negative inner voice. It makes me likely to take my husband’s innocent comments and turn them into criticism. Those who have followed this blog for awhile know that my weight is an issue with me. My husband’s innocent question “Did you workout today?” gets turned around in my mind to “You’re fat. You need to work out.” I have to remember that ISN’T what my husband said.
- Take a pause and reflect. Instead of snapping about the potato chips, stop and think. If you’re the one being snapped at first (make sure you’re not taking an innocent question and turning it into a snappish comment), take a breath. And try to defuse the situation.
- Don’t escalate. And be aware that an escalating argument can cause you both of you to be oversensitive. You might see disdain or contempt on their face when they’re just tired. They might see the same in you. Escalation can cause distortion of both assumed motives and perceived behavior.
- Talk about your feelings. This may be hard, even with someone you love and trust. But explain to your partner- I feel that you don’t care about me because you didn’t bother to get potato chips for me. I feel like unless I’m right in front of you, you don’t think about me. Yes, it’s said a lot. But use your “I feel” statements. Those feelings are valid and real. It doesn’t mean they DON’T care about you. But the fact you feel that way needs to be addressed.
- Tough question that needs to be addressed: do you want to stay in this relationship? (This is for those who are just dating, not those who are married.) Too much or too harsh of fighting can be a warning sign in a relationship. Ask yourself: am I willing to change my fighting patterns? Is my partner?
Wrapping it up
Arguments can be a healthy part of a relationship. Adult, rational arguments can allow you to express your feelings. It can clear the air.
But constant arguments- especially useless relationship fights- are a cause for concern.
The biggest thing you can do is check YOUR behavior. You can’t change the other person. You have to take responsibility. For your actions, words, tone, and- most importantly- your feelings.