Mind & Body

This Is the Best Way to Argue with Your Partner, Says a Communication Expert

It's hard to imagine a relationship without its fair share of arguments. Arguing is certainly not a great thing, but not all fights are created equal. From the petty annoyances to those deep-seated disagreements that just won't die, there is one way to approach couples' arguments to get the best possible result.

Argument Checklist

Ever have the same stupid fight with your partner over and over again? Haven't we all. The good news: There may be a way to put a stop to it once and for all, as long as you and your partner agree to make a slight tweak. According to a May 2018 study, changing the way you approach arguments with your significant other can turn those petty bickering matches into productive conversations.

Ioana Cionea, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Oklahoma, and her colleagues looked at what separates good arguments from bad ones for their research. In their definition, "good" fights are productive, have resolutions, and no one rattles off any sarcastic punches or starts crying tears of frustration. "Bad" fights, on the other hand, are not productive, are left unresolved, and one or more parties involves end up resorting to sarcasm or busting out the waterworks. Any of this sound familiar?

For the study, the team recruited 675 undergraduate students, roughly two-thirds of whom were women. Only those who were in a romantic relationship were allowed to participate, and, importantly, participants had to currently have a "serial argument" with their partner: one argument that they kept having over and over again. Finally, they filled out an online questionnaire that about their relationship and their argument, including details about their goals for that argument and the effects the argument had.

The Right Fights

Cionea maintains that the key to having good arguments is a concept she calls "argument interdependence." This is when both people involved are treating the disagreement like it's something they can solve together, and one person isn't getting blamed or bullied. For example, an argument with more interdependence might be deciding whether to buy a new home versus a fixer-upper. In order to reach a resolution, both parties have to come to an agreement. Participants who dealt with these types of arguments were more likely to report that they came from a cooperative standpoint, where the goals were things like coming to a mutual agreement and reassuring their partner that they cared about them despite the fight (d'aww).

The other side would be an argument with little interdependence. For example, one person might always leave dirty dishes on the counter, and the issue would be resolved if only they would get their act together and clean up after themselves more often. These types of arguments, the authors found, tended to be more about dominance. In lower-interdependence fights, partners were more intent on winning, changing the other person's behavior, or even hurting their partner or ending the relationship. Not surprisingly, people who reported that their repeated arguments were higher in interdependence reported being more satisfied in their relationships.

Flip the Script

To turn your couple fights into healthy discussions, Cionea says to view them as obstacles instead of competitions. "One of the things we say in the paper is that maybe we should try, when we're in these arguments, to think from this interdependent perspective," she tells The Cut. "Think about if there's any way to reframe it from 'me versus you,' especially in arguments that are high stakes." In the dishes example, a partner should avoid making a demand of the other, but instead offer something like "How can we work together to change this behavior that bugs me so much?" 

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Written by Joanie Faletto June 22, 2018

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