One of the most common issues I hear about from couples in my counseling sessions is that disagreements quickly spiral into heated arguments. While it's normal for couples to argue, couples who argue a lot aren't enjoying a healthy relationship. If this sounds like you, you may be a high conflict couple.
The disagreements between couples often stem from something relatively minor, like a household issue or a poorly-expressed thought. More often than not, these "molehills" can be easily addressed with better communication skills.
Learning how to navigate the small stuff can help high conflict couples build trust, maintain a mindful presence, and avoid the potential for tension in your relationship.
So if you're ready to enjoy a more peaceful relationship with your partner, here are five tips for avoiding arguments and keeping things copesetic.
5 Tips for High Conflict Couples to Avoid Arguments
1. Recognize your grievance.
Sometimes we segue into a larger issue from a smaller one without realizing it.
For example, maybe your partner has a habit of leaving dishes in the sink. That's a natural starting point for a conversation – but think about the real conversation you want to have. Is the problem just about dishes in the sink, or is there an overall issue with inconsiderate behavior?
Before expressing your concerns, be honest about why you're upset. This will help high conflict couples approach the conversation more mindfully and keep a level head. For example, if the problem is just about dishes in the sink, ask yourself why that's worthy of a discussion - is it your pet peeve? Are you worried about inviting pests?
Taking a moment to diagnose the root of your grievance will help high conflict couples have a more productive conversation. If the problem is really about something larger within your relationship, bring it up tactfully.
Just be sure to do it at a time when you both have the time and emotional capacity to discuss it.
2. Focus on solutions, not problems.
Problems have a way of occupying our thoughts because they're "received information," whereas solutions take more work to produce. When you take a step back and recognize potential solutions to bring to the conversation, it's so much easier to avoid an argument.
Imagine a couple who have been married for a while. One party feels that they never do anything fun anymore, and the other stresses about spending money on dates. It's easy to see how a high conflict couple might spiral this difference into an argument, even though each person's perspective is valid.
A mindful couple would see this as a chance to put their heads together and get creative. They might spend an afternoon brainstorming inexpensive date ideas they would both enjoy. Asking your partner to brainstorm solutions with you is an excellent way of keeping the end goal front and center.
Bringing some ideas to the conversation ahead of time is productive, too. Keeping solutions in mind when you initiate a conversation keeps things in perspective and can fundamentally change the nature of the conversation from a problem to a solution.
3. Practice maintaining a pleasant tone.
Can you think of a time when someone asked you for something reasonable, but the way they asked you felt rude? Likewise, high conflict couples are sometimes guilty of carelessness in their delivery.
Studies have repeatedly shown that communication style can make or break a relationship. We're far more inclined to listen when someone's communication style is measured and considerate.
To dialogue a little more mindfully, consider trying the following:
Fight the urge to "snap" at your partner. When you start to get irritated, take a moment to breathe and collect yourself.
Avoid blame and sarcasm. Remember, you're talking to someone you love.
Focus on how the situation makes you feel using "I" statements.
Use a conversational tone and avoid swearing.
Think about what your body language is saying.
Stay centered in the love and respect you feel towards your partner.
Remember, there's always a way to communicate your needs without hurting anyone's feelings.
For some high conflict couples, it comes down to timing. For example, if you know they've had a hard week at work, a Friday night might not be the best time to bring up something that's been bothering you. If your partner isn't a morning person, they'll probably appreciate that you kept things light until their coffee's done its job.
4. Keep it breezy.
Remember those first few months of your relationship when everything was so fun and simple? But, of course, things don't stay that way forever — we call it "getting serious" for a reason. But don't take yourself too seriously.
There's a lot of evidence to support the idea that humor is as much a part of a healthy relationship as love, sex, and mutual understanding, but it's not talked about nearly as much.
High conflict couples need to give their relationship room to breathe by finding ways to have fun and goof off together. You'll find that the more time you spend laughing in each other's company, the less time you'll spend focusing on disagreements in your relationship.
Similarly, be sure to acknowledge the positive things about your relationship and your partner. It's so important to be vocal about the things you love about your partner - not just for them, but for you. Spending too much time talking about the negative can consume you and your relationship.
5. Talk about yourself, not your partner.
Consider the difference between the following:
"I'm feeling ignored right now. Can you put your phone down for a little while so we can hang out?"
"You've been on your phone for an hour. It's like you're ignoring me."
Notice how the second one seems almost combative and assumes that the other person has bad intentions, while the first is a statement of needs. Can you imagine how those two conversations might go in very different directions?
High conflict couples can alleviate tension by focusing on feelings rather than actions. Start with an "I" statement rather than a "you" statement to avoid blaming your partner. Taking ownership of your feelings can help you better communicate how your partner's actions affect you.
Communication takes practice, and learning how to have a fruitful conversation is a skill that requires a lot of work - but it's worth it. Approaching conflict with self-awareness and a mindful perspective prevents hurt feelings and helps you support each other's needs and dreams.
Always remember that you're talking to someone you love, and the rest will follow.
If you've reached a point in your relationship where it feels impossible to have a conversation without it getting heated, you might need help from a neutral third party. Couples counseling is a great way to learn how to better communicate with your partner, navigate complex topics, and rebuild your relationship with a stronger foundation of trust and care.
Find out if couples counseling can improve your marriage.
Call 833-934-3573 for your free, no-obligation consultation.
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