Arguments are too Damaging to Relationships
Arguments are undoubtedly one of the most damaging things you can do to a relationship. I know of very few people, if any, who actually enjoy them. The way we behave in the warm up to and during an argument can be really ugly and the experience afterwards is devastating. The whole thing is disastrous.
We could spend time developing descriptions of how we deal with arguments. Segmenting the population into groups of those who fight back, just go quiet, run away, or those who simply take the blame to avoid the inevitable escalation. But I don’t know how helpful that would be.
However, if we believe ourselves to be adults, we should be able to stop and do something different before we get to a point where sludge is being flung and grandmother’s fine bone china takes a hit.
Changing our approach to arguments
There is a stage just before the argument begins when we can notice something stirring inside of ourselves. The kind of something that scratches at an old unsettled insult or upset. We feel a little tinge of righteousness or hurt, and our defensive armor locks in place like the suit of Iron Man.
We migh find getting ready for battle invigorating, while in our head we hear the beginning of the Eye of The Tiger. However, there are no winners in this battle, only hurt victims and bruised egos.
It is a sorry state when afterwards, we settle down with our laptop and call out to the world how unfair it all is and, later perhaps, express our wishes that we had said or done something different instead. Too late! The damage is done.
What to do when the damage is done
At this point there is little we can do but give each other some space to think. To be able to talk as civilized adults, we both need to be calm and have thought about our own role in what has happened.
Most of us tend to point a finger at our partner saying that it is them who is to blame, that they should have done this, said that or reacted differently. It is a good way of avoiding taking responsibility for our own part, allowing ourselves to carry on feeling righteous.
Thinking about our own part isn’t about taking all the blame. We need to be able to look ourselves in the face and see our part in the moment of eruption and just before. I know it isn’t a pretty sight and I do wonder if we avoid this self-reflection because if we look at it, we will feel unbearably embarrassed, even shamed. This is all part of learning from our mistakes and knowing that it is ok to feel embarrassed, sad or shamed, as long as we do something to change the cause, our behaviour, to stop the repetition of our own bad behaviour.
How to do arguments differently
I changed the way I do arguments and I won’t go back again. It took me a while to realise that I frequently wanted to hide with embarrassment and sadness for having said what I said, for having behaved like a rebellious teenager. And it wasn’t just once, it was loads of times before I began to realise that this was hurting too much, not just the people around me whom I love, but it was hurting me too.
How my strategy has changed:
1. I started taking notice of those moments inside when I knew my feelings of injustice were being scratched. I knew that was the beginning of something that could potentially turn ugly.
2. I held this emotion in. I know, we are all told not to hold our emotions back, but in these situations I honestly believe it is for the best. Read on and you’ll find out why.
3. I found a place where I could be alone for a few minutes. If that wasn’t possible, I would just go quiet while I recognised my righteousness and I watched it float up to the surface. Paradoxically facing our inner emotions is one of many ways to let them go. They may appear a few times, but each time they appear they will have less power than the last.
4. This might sound a little crazy, but it worked: I talked with this emotion or vision. I said something like “Hello, who are you?” and “I wonder what you are after?”. My voice was soft as I welcomed the rascals in. It made me cry, it caused me to get breathless, or become embarrassed. As I allowed these emotions just to exist, they became smaller and the threat disappeared leaving behind a gentle neediness or they simply burst like a soap bubble. Whatever it was that set off this reaction went away without me having to suppress it, and no battles needed to be fought. No one was hurt and I learnt a little bit more about myself.
These little devils have learnt to appear by complete surprise, because we have ignored them for so long it is their way of getting us to notice them. They are trying to get our attention. “Surprise!” they shout jumping out from behind, making us stand back in shock while they take us hostage. Now we are in their hands, even if in the back of our mind we believe that what we are saying is unpleasant or is causing unnecessary hurt; we are now controlled by them.
Watching these emotions from the moment we feel the first stir and noticing what they do, will make them visible. When they are visible, they cannot take us by surprise and we stay in control. The emotions will still be allowed to rise, though they will become malleable in the palm of our metaphoric hands.
Showing our emotions can be a great experience, but being hostage to them will only cause destruction.