In the midst of an argument, many of us tend to let ourselves give in to our emotional state. We give in to the anger, the frustration, or the disappointment, allowing it to control the words we speak and the actions we take. When you are in a relationship with someone, you begin to learn what makes the other person tick, what makes them defensive, or what hurts their feelings the most after a few arguments. In our emotional state, we sometimes use that knowledge to “win.” After the argument is over and things calm down, we blame our vindictive decisions on our feelings and emotions: “I only said that because I was mad” or “I only did that because I was frustrated.” We then move on from the argument and its aftermath, but find ourselves repeating the cycle once again the next argument comes around. It is damaging and harmful behaviour in our relationships and we need to stop. Here’s how and here’s why.After almost seven years in a relationship, my boyfriend and I have been through all kinds of arguments: big, small, long, short, significant, and pointless. In the early stages of our relationship, our only rule in an argument was anything goes. We would do anything and say anything based on our feelings and emotions, especially me. If my anger or frustration wanted to be spiteful, then I would go for it. I used to believe that the only way to resolve a disagreement was to let it all out, to go at it, by any means we personally deemed necessary.
We quickly realized how harmful our behaviour was during arguments. Because even when it was over, the dust never really settled. Although we thought things were resolved, little details and hurts from previous arguments would arise in current arguments. We were out of control. If we wanted to maintain a healthy, growing relationship, we had to change.
We began to have open discussions about what to do and what not to do during an argument. Based on our pet peeves, our dislikes, and our triggers, we were able to establish ground rules whenever we reached a point of contention. Some of our rules include: no swearing or cussing; don’t use phrases like, “Just chill” or “You’re being extra”; no hanging up on the person; etc. Our rules are a set of guidelines that prevent us from flying off the handle. It allows us to feel what we feel without completely giving in to those feelings and losing control.
Of course, we didn’t adhere to the guidelines immediately. We had to teach ourselves self-control and discipline, reminding ourselves that the rules are for the greater good of our relationship. I have to admit, though, sometimes I forget myself and I have to profusely apologize to him for ignoring the rules. It’s definitely still a work in progress.
Setting rules for your arguments builds mutual respect, establishes clear boundaries, and forms shared understanding within your relationship. Even when you disagree, you create an opportunity for growth and learning in your relationship. Your arguments and disagreements contribute to your progress as a couple, rather than wreak havoc and cause destruction.
Your rules will be different from our rules, but I encourage every couple to set rules for your arguments. When setting rules, I suggest you consider factors such as your dynamics as a couple (i.e. how you relate to one another in general), your triggers for certain emotions (i.e. what words or actions will escalate the argument, rather than pacify the situation), and your personalities (i.e. who tends to be the hot-headed one, or the calm one, etc.).
Although we are all entitled to feel what we feel, we must also realize that in a relationship, not only should we acknowledge how we feel, but we must also acknowledge how the other person feels. It is about stepping out of a space of selfishness and into a space of open communication, respect, and understanding.