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Inevitably the happy new relationship fog fades and reality rears it’s ugly head and those little cute quirks aren’t cute anymore and you have The Fight, and suddenly the happy couple is questioning whether they were even supposed to be together in the first place.

Arguments and fights are an inevitable part of relationships. Fighting isn’t a sign that things are wrong, nor is not fighting an indication that your relationship is perfect. However, if you don’t know how to argue properly, you do risk doing damage to the relationship… or worse, being cut off from sex for who knows how long.

If you’re going to fight, you have to know how to argue correctly. This ain’t ‘Nam, Smokey, there’re rules. To arguing. ((Just to forestall the inevitable comment thread, we’ve all seen that Monty Python sketch thank you very much.))

Rule #1: Keep Your Cool

I know you’re angry. You may have a perfectly legitimate reason to be angry. You’re so incredibly pissed that cartoon clouds of steam are pouring out your ears and that vein in your temple is pounding like a Rick Allen drum solo. You can hear the volume in your voice rising the longer that the argument goes on…

Well, clamp it down, soldier. You need to keep your head straight while you’re arguing and yelling isn’t going to help matters. In fact, it’s just going to make things worse.

When you’re arguing with your significant other, your anger – however justified it may well be – can only work against you. When you get angry you don’t think straight. You don’t pay nearly as much attention to what you’re saying… or what your partner is saying, for that matter. You’ll interpret things in ways that they never intended, you won’t think clearly and you’ll be far, far more tempted to aim to hurt instead of to resolve the argument.

Think of it this way. Arguments are like low-burning fires. Treat it right and it’ll go out with minimal fuss. Yelling and losing your temper is like tossing a bottle of lighter fluid into the mix. Sometimes the explosion will consume the fuel quicker and end things. Most of the time though, it’s going to start burning out of control and in ways you didn’t account for.

Look, I know this part is difficult, especially if you feel as though you’re correct or you feel as though you’re being treated unfairly. Trust me: take a deep breath, hold it, let it out slowly. Let your heart rate slow a little before you speak. If you absolutely need to, tell your partner that you need to cool off for a moment, exit the scene, take a few minutes to calm the fuck down before you get back in there and continue in a reasonable manner. It’s easier to fight properly when you can keep your wits about you. If you can’t… well, I hope your couch is comfy.

Rule #2: Know What You’re Saying

I’ll be the first person to make fun of the whole “Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus” school of thought, but there is one part of it that’s absolutely correct: men tend to fight completely differently from women. Men will argue from a standpoint of logic while women will argue from a viewpoint of emotion. This isn’t to say that one stance or the other is superior to the other; the problem is that these styles of arguing are mutually incompatible.

For example: consider this scene in the movie The Break Up  ((And there’s a movie I never thought I’d find useful… go figure. )) :

To a woman, the focus of the fight is that Gary doesn’t appreciate the effort that Brooke has put into the party and the way he’s treating her. Grudgingly helping with the dishes is actually worse than not helping; what she’s asking for is for some consideration and courtesy.

The problem here isn’t the dishes; the dishes aren’t even a symptom, just a trigger. The problem is that neither of them is understanding what the other is saying. Gary doesn’t understand what Brooke is asking for, and Brooke doesn’t seem to be able to explain what the underlying problem is.

This issue crops up more often than you would think. When a man feels that he’s correct, he will often try to explain that what his girlfriend is saying is factually incorrect or that she is mistaken because X, Y or Z. However, to a woman, this frequently comes across as “You don’t have the right to feel the way that you do,” which is quite literally adding insult to injury. This makes her madder, which in turn makes him angrier, which leads to further escalation.

When you’re arguing with your partner (boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband, roommate, whatever), you need to take a moment to think of not just what you’re saying, but how it comes across to them. Sometimes the words of the argument are just window dressing for the true underlying issue. If you don’t address the underlying problem, dealing with the symptoms not only gets you nowhere, sometimes they make things worse.

Rule #3: Don’t Aim To Wound

When your blood is pumping and your temper is high and you’re full of righteous indignation because you feel that you’re being unfairly maligned, it can be incredibly tempting to lash out. You’re hurt and you want to strike back any way you can. The problem, of course is this doesn’t get you any closer to actually resolving the issue. In fact, it makes things worse. Name calling, insults, preying on insecurities, pulling out old grievances… all of these become weapons in a war of escalation between two parties who know exactly where to drive the knives for maximum pain.

"Your back is hairier than a sasquatch!" "YOUR MOTHER IS A WHORE!"
Not only is it childish and counter-productive, this sort of fighting can cause a mortal wound to your relationship. The worse the fighting and name-calling, the greater likelihood that one of you is going to say something that you can’t take back. The wrong thing said in anger can bring even the strongest relationship to a grinding halt.

Suddenly you’re not fighting about the bills any more.

Now you’re desperately trying to fix the emotional equivalent of an iron prybar through the mid-section. Your relationship may survive… but it’s gonna have one hell of a scar afterwards.

Rule #4: Stick To the (Real) Issue At Hand

It’s entirely too easy for an argument to get derailed. You start off arguing about who left the seat up again, which turns into who made the two of you so late for the party last week which somehow further mutates into a fight about who is contributing what to the household and that iPad you shelled out for.

Some arguments can be so protean and malleable that before too long you don’t even remember what the hell set things off, just that the two of you are pissed off at each other for something which is almost certainly their fault. Meanwhile, the real problem – she feels that she has to fight to get your attention while you have all the time in the world  for your buddies; you’re feeling as though you’re not allowed to have time to yourself, while she runs your life with clockwork precision – continues to fester just below the surface.

Keep diversions to a minimum, without rehashing old fights or side-issues, by focusing on the end-result. What is the fight about? What needs to be resolved? Stick to that goal. Getting distracted by other matters only delays actually resolving whatever matter started the fight in the first place.

A side note: if you find that the topic of the fight keeps changing, this is a good sign that the real problem isn’t what you’re arguing about. Go back to rule #2 and start listening to what your partner is really saying.

Rule #5: Never Underestimate the Power of “I’m Sorry”.

One of the more annoying tendencies of the male gender – especially “alpha male” types – is the tendency to believe that backing down means displaying weakness or ceding control.

In reality: some fights just aren’t worth having. Sometimes you’re legitimately in the wrong and trying to prove otherwise just means that you’re trying to salvage your pride at the expense of digging yourself into deeper trouble with your significant other. Sometimes “winning” the fight means you still lose; being proven correct just isn’t worth the cost in tears, resentment and sexual freeze-outs, especially when just apologizing is so much easier and costs you so little in the long run. Ask yourself whether this is a fight you need to have; do you have a legitimate point or are you just trying to prop up your ego? Be willing to back down for the greater good of your relationship.

Besides, the sooner the fight is over, the sooner you can have that awesome make-up sex.

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