Relationships: Arguing vs. Solving Problems

Health Writer

When you live with someone, are in a long-term relationship or dating, you are bound to have disagreements with one another. After all, yhou re both individuals, you both have your own opinions and points of view. Resolving problems is about working together to find a solution, common ground or compromise you satisfactory to both people. Arguing, however, is about winning. It is about standing your ground and needing to be right. This means when one of you wins the argument, the other person "loses."

Reframing arguments into problem solving provides a chance to look at the situation from both perspectives and work together to find a resolution. The following are some tips to help you changethe dynamics of your arguing and focus on solutions:

Address the problem rather than the other person. While it may be tempting to attack the other person for a perceived wrongdoing, keep your language neutral and describe the problem, for example, instead of saying, "You always come home late, you are so inconsiderate," say, "I feel upset when I make dinner and you don't get home until much later. If you are working late, could you call or text me to let me know what time you expect to be home?" This way you have addressed a specific problem and offered a solution. Now you can work together to decide if this will work for both of you.

Respond without becoming defensive. In the heat of an argument, it is tempting to react strongly against any criticism with anger and defensiveness, especially if you are in the mode of "winning" the argument; any concession of wrongdoing weakens your position. However, if you remember the goal is not to win but to resolve, you can respond to your partner's statements by accepting blame for your actions and then working to find a resolution.

Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language. You might be saying one thing with your words and another with your body language. If you are trying to stick to the issues and not become defensive, don't let your body say otherwise.

Look for the real issue. Avoid arguing about symptoms and instead dig deeper to solve the underlying problem. Using the example of being late for dinner, are you angry because your partner is often late or are you feeling like you and your relationship don't matter; if so, address that you don't feel your partner is making the relationship a priority, not that he has been late for dinner lately. Resolving a symptom isn't going to resolve the problem.

Keep to the issue. When angry, you might remember everything your partner ever did wrong and start throwing these issues into the mix. This confuses the issue and usually ends up solving nothing. Focus on the issue at hand and set boundaries on the conversation. Keep the other issues for another time, or, if they are old issues, let them go.

Once the argument is over, let it go. Sometimes, even after the argument is over, one or both partners hold a grudge or feel resentful about how it ended. Agree that once the argument is over, you will both abide by the resolution without holding it against the other person. Remember, sometimes you will be happy with the results and sometimes you will need to negotiate or compromise. Accept the end of the argument gracefully.

End by allowing both people to keep their dignity. If your partner apologizes for some wrongdoing, accept it with grace. Imagine that you are the one to apologize, you wouldn't want your partner to bring it up again later or to still resent the behavior, therefore, you should act in the same way. Agree to the rule that once it is over, it is over.

When arguing it is important for both partners to remain respectful of one another. Beware of unacceptable behavior such as emotional or physical abuse. If you are afraid of your partner, talk to a counselor of contact the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 1/800-799-7233.