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Common Mistakes to Avoid When Arguing with Your Spouse

All couples have disagreements. Whether you’re married, engaged, or just starting to date, it’s normal for humans in romantic relationships to have arguments. While occasional disagreements are okay, experts warn about common mistakes couples make when they’re in the middle of a fight.

Anne Appel, a licensed clinical professional counselor and couples and family therapist in Chicago, Illinois, explains that couples often argue about money, chores, sex, and children. She emphasizes that it’s okay to have a certain level of conflict as long as it’s done respectfully and leads to productive discussions that bring the couple closer together. However, arguments should not turn hostile and aggressive, as this can hurt feelings and create emotional distance between partners.

Name-Calling

Name-calling is disrespectful and never okay. It usually happens when emotions overwhelm a person, and they say hurtful things to wound their partner. However, this behavior ends up hurting both people involved.

According to Dara McDowell, a therapist, name-calling often links to childhood experiences, like witnessing or experiencing it. To stop, notice when you start name-calling, connect it to familiar feelings, and use different words to express yourself respectfully. Recognize that name-calling doesn’t help and try to communicate better.

Interrupting Your Partner

Interrupting during a conversation is disrespectful and counterproductive. It can lead to your partner shutting down or an even bigger argument. To communicate effectively, practice active listening. This means listening carefully, repeating your partner’s words, and asking questions for clarity.

Taking notes before and during the conversation can help. It prevents impulsive interruptions and helps you remember what to ask when your partner finishes speaking. Writing down questions is useful to ensure you don’t forget important points without interrupting.

Using Disrespectful Body Language

Negative body language during an argument can make things worse. It’s like blocking the message you want to convey. If you notice such body language, it’s better to take a break to cool off and identify what’s bothering you. Then, return to the discussion when you’re in a better state.

Sometimes, couples unintentionally use negative gestures like eye-rolling or crossing arms during arguments. It’s okay to address these behaviors but do it sensitively. Ask questions like, “Are you feeling frustrated when you roll your eyes?” to create a better understanding.

Attacking Your Partner’s Character

Focusing on your partner instead of the issue at hand is called deflecting. It’s an attempt to shift the focus away and avoid dealing with negative consequences. It’s better to use “I” statements to express your feelings and stay focused on the situation when arguing.

Effective communication is essential during conflicts. Stick to communication basics like “I feel when you because you ___. This approach is more likely to get you what you want than verbally attacking your partner and putting them on the defensive. To remedy an attack, try saying five positive things to maintain a healthier balance in the conversation.

Getting Defensive

Defending yourself during an argument isn’t fair to anyone involved, including your relationship. If you find yourself getting defensive, take some time to reflect. Try to understand if a past experience is making you react this way. If so, consider seeking help from a therapist to address those underlying issues.

It’s challenging not to become defensive when someone is upset with you. To handle this situation better, slow down the conversation. Repeat what you heard to ensure you understood correctly. Validate and empathize with your partner by imagining how they feel in that situation. This approach can increase emotional connection and intimacy.

Shutting Down

Stonewalling happens when one or both partners shut down during conflict because they feel overwhelmed. Instead of addressing the issue, they might act busy or say they don’t want to talk. When you notice this, it’s best to stop talking and take a 20-minute break to calm down. This break can help you come back to the conversation with a clearer perspective and better problem-solving skills. Having a cue or word agreed upon to signal when you’re overwhelmed is also useful.

Sometimes, your partner might not be ready to talk about their feelings. Pushing them to respond isn’t a good idea. Instead, you can suggest talking later when you’ve both had time to process your feelings.

Avoiding Eye Contact

Sometimes, when people feel uncomfortable, they avoid eye contact. You can ask your partner to look at you when you speak, but do it lovingly. Say something like, “I know this might be hard for you, but it makes me feel cared for and heard when you look at me while I’m talking to you.”

Avoiding eye contact can make it seem like you’re not interested, angry, or scared. Keeping relaxed eye contact can make your interactions more intimate and cooperative.

Bringing Up Past Issues

“Gunny sacking” is when you bring up old issues during an argument, making things worse. It often happens when past problems resurface, even if they were never resolved. If you can’t go to therapy, try reading self-help books or using online resources to strengthen your relationship.

Sometimes, talking about past hurts doesn’t help. Instead, focus on your current feelings, especially if they’re similar to what you felt before. It’s not about the past problem but the familiar emotions. Recognize these feelings and share your needs with your partner.

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