How to Deal with a Relationship in Serious Trouble

couple sits on bench in park head on face having conflict not talking to each other
by Vance Larson

Because. When I watch you eat. When I see you asleep. When I look at you lately, I just want to smash your face in. ~ War of the Roses

The above is a great quote from the great movie War Of The Roses. Many of us have undoubtedly felt like this at one time or another. Be it in your current relationship, or a relationship from the past. And while that is a great line that is always good for a laugh. In reality, by the time it gets to this point, it is already too late. The damage has already sunk in, and it is going to be really hard to effectively communicate. So let’s dissect what a healthy argument looks like. Argument Etiquette if you will.

The very first thing that I stress to my clients when they come to address their relationship discord is to attack the problem, not the person. When we make it personal, our natural reaction is to get angry or to be hurt. And when we’re angry, our instinct is to attack. And when we’re hurt, we tend to shut down over fear of being hurt again. So begin your discussion focusing on behaviors. Talk about how their behavior affects you, rather than berating them because they affect you. It’s all in how you frame your concern.

There is a reason why there is break (a short period of time) in between rounds of a boxing match. You take the time to catch your breath, and to think about what you’re going to do next. The same principle applies when you feel that argument coming on with your spouse. Take some time to compose yourself. Be strategic in how you want to approach them. Know what you want to say before you say it. How many arguments have lasted longer than they should have because we reacted, instead of responded? Be articulate in how you want to get your point across.

The kiss of death in any argument is posting your problem on social media. In 33 years of providing mental health work, I have never had a couple say “Thank God we posted our problem online. We got so much positive feedback from everyone.” It just doesn’t happen. Too many people enjoy the train wreck. Do not give them one to watch. Besides, I think we should leave something’s things as sacred.

We know we should not call names, but we should also know not blame. Remember focus on the problem and not the person. And even if you have done a good job pointing out the problem, when you call your spouse a name, you have just made it personal. (Another good reason to approach this conversation after you have had time to compose yourself.) But regarding blame, trying something like “How did we get so far off course?”, rather than “I can’t believe you would do this to us.” Surely the latter will yield a negative consequence. Remove the blame and making it personal, and all of a sudden it becomes a “we” problem and the likely hood of becoming defensive is minimal.

You’re literally throwing gasoline on a fire when you don’t offer an apology. Admit it. Sometimes we’re wrong. Far too many people will not offer up that apology because of pride. If your wrong, say it. And if you’re not. Be graceful in accepting their apology. They say pride goeth before the fall. I say sometimes the fall is due to the pride. Two words. I’m sorry can have a lasting effect on any relationship. Learn to accept peace over pride.

When it comes to argument etiquette, it is more about the energy behind the action. Start your conversation on common ground and work backwards. Realize that some behaviors were not created over night, so it is unrealistic that one conversation will cure all. It may take time. But if you’re mindful of your energy, and work on the problem and not the person. You may just find yourself creating the relationship that you’ve always dreamed of. Because argument etiquette makes the good relationships great.

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