It can take a lot of time and effort to learn how to argue with your partner in a healthy and constructive way, but it can be done. To start, it's important to keep in mind that, above all else, there's nothing inherently wrong with the occasional disagreement. In fact, getting things off your chest can actually be good for your relationship.
"Arguing is normal and can be a healthy way to resolve differences," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "Fighting fair in a romantic relationship involves having disagreements while still holding the other person in high esteem. It also involves keeping the foundation of love in place. Anything that erodes love and trust during an argument turns it from healthy and normal to toxic."
1Everything You've Ever Been Mad About, Ever
We've all had that moment during an argument when we start bringing up things from the past, or yelling about totally unrelated things. This is what therapists refer to as "kitchensinking," because you start arguing about everything and the kitchen sink. And it's not helpful.
"'Kitchensinking' is a term that refers to the tendency to add other examples of wrongdoing to our original complaint," Dr. Helen Odessky, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, tells Bustle. "This can make an argument turn toxic because the other partner soon finds themselves on the receiving end of multiple accusations, and without hope for resolution they may quickly resort to counterattacks."
While it may be tempting to go down the list of everything you've ever been upset about, it's much healthier to focus on one topic at a time, so neither of your feels overwhelmed.
When you're feeling upset, you might be tempted to drag your partner down by calling them names or attacking their character. But harsh words will only ever make an argument worse.
"When an arguments turn from specific complaints, [such as] 'it bothers me when you don’t clean up when you promised to do so' to statements like calling your partner 'lazy' or worse, the partner naturally feels like this is a no-win argument and the argument turns toxic," Dr. Odessky says. "Your partner gets defensive, counter attacks, or shuts down. No problem solving can occur when it is your partner’s character that is attacked versus their actions."
3Threatening To Cheat
"This is sometimes threatened when one partner feels they aren't [having] enough sex in the relationship, but can also be thrown out in frustration at anything that isn't going right in the relationship," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center tells Bustle. "Threatening to have an affair is extremely destabilizing to the relationship and does terrible damage to your partner's sense of security in it."
Even if you're just saying it because you're mad — which is most often the case — it's better to focus on the issue at hand, then to throw around empty threats.
4Saying You'd Rather Break Up
"Threatening to end the relationship is heartless and can create anxiety in your partner even after the fight," Bennett says. "Unless you are truly ready to end the relationship, never threaten it in the midst of a fight."
If it's gotten to the point where you and your partner are threatening to leave, it's best to take a step back and cool off. Promise to reconvene in a few hours (or the next day) when you can chat about whatever's wrong — but this time with cooler heads.
5Questioning Each Other's Love
It's so important to remember that, even in the midst of an argument, you're still a couple and you're still on the same team. Which is why saying things like "do you even love me?" is never a good idea.
"An argument shouldn’t invalidate the love in the relationship," Bennett says. "By expressing your own lack of love or questioning your partner’s, you’re doing incredible damage to the relationship. It’s possible to love each other and still argue. In fact, your love will allow you to overcome the disagreement."
6Throwing Around Insults
Throwing around insults can be toxic, too — especially since they can ring in your partner's ears well after the argument is over.
"Personal attacks do not help to solve a problem," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "They only flare emotions. You can be mad at what they did or are doing, but focus on the actions."
Talk about what you're upset about, or what your partner did to hurt you, and avoid calling them names.
7Saying They "Need" To Do Something
Often, arguments between couples revolve around what one or both of you isn't doing in the relationship. But even so, it never helps to blame each other, point fingers, or say "you need to do this" or "you need to do that."
The moment you start telling each other what to do, you'll automatically go on the defense and won't hear what comes next, therapist Julie Fanning LCSW, CCM, tells Bustle. "Our initial response will be along the lines of 'I don't need to do anything!'"
Instead, say things like "It'd be really beneficial if you did this," as a way of saying what you need, without telling your partner what to do.
8Using Words Like "Always" Or "Never"
While it might feel like your partner "never" helps around the house, or like they're "always" acting self-centered, try to avoid using grand, all-encompassing words like these.
"Exaggerating will move you off topic," Fanning says. Not to mention, using words like these can cause your partner to go on the defensive, as a way of protecting themselves.
And that can quickly cause the the argument to go from constructive to toxic.
If you ever need to dole out an ultimatum, try to do so as a last ditch effort. "Ultimatums are only, only used when you are prepared to act on them and never in the beginning," Dr. Klapow says. "They are a threat and not to be used casually."
10Anything That'll Help You "Win"
The goal of any argument you're having with your partner isn't to "win" or shut them down with the perfect comeback, but to reach some sort of compromise and understand each other better. So don't go into it with the goal of "winning."
As Dr. Klapow says, "If you go in with the mindset of winning the argument versus solving the problem, you can’t hear or process information as clearly." It's all about listening to each other, and remaining open.
11Nothing At All
Shutting down during an argument — or refusing to say anything at all — is known as "stonewalling." And it's a tactic that's entirely unhelpful.
"If you simply shut down the entire discussion because you refuse to make an effort to solve the problem, the message you send is 'I don’t care,'" Dr. Klapow says. It also makes further compromise impossible, since you've literally stopped discussing the issue at hand.
While it's fine if you're angry and need some time alone, do let your partner know first, and say you'll get back to them later. Little tricks like these can help keep an argument from turning toxic.
And the same is true for avoiding topics like the ones listed above. By staying on the same team — and avoiding things like blaming, name-calling, or stonewalling — you can have healthier arguments with your partner.