One of the largest hurdles and growing pains a couple will experience is learning how to communicate during times of distress and anger. Sometimes a fight can get so bad that you are left doubting the relationship and your partner himself. He accuses you of being overly sensitive; you accuse him of not listening or being attentive to your needs. After a grueling tirade of who's right or wrong, sooner or later both of you are in a downward spiral where ego has completely taken over, and rationality and sympathy are out the window.
But before you blame your other half for his communication deficiencies or conclude that the relationship is unsalvageable, try to understand that learning how to argue is a work in progress and can take a few years to find a balance and flow.
Learning how to communicate with your partner and how to argue maturely is something that requires time, effort and commitment. We all go into a relationship with our own baggage, sensitive trigger points, and methods of negotiation that were learned as a child.
For example, when I was a child, being the youngest and relatively "spoiled" in comparison to my sisters, I learned that if I cried loud enough and whined profusely enough, eventually I'd get my way. I learned that if I weren't satisfied with an outcome, sulking and pouting would yield results. Little did I know that my way of communicating what I wanted and getting it, and my system of navigating through distress, were being formulated at such a young age. After years of acting out that way and getting a certain reaction each time, those behavioral and communication patterns were reinforced time and time again, creating habits that I would default to as an adult.
And as an adult, it's obvious that being passive-aggressive, silent and sulky are not the most effective of tactics; however, I have found it challenging to shake off my old habits of behavior and start new ones. I actually have to stop myself in my tracks and force myself to get out of my "upset child" mode and actually communicate in a mature way. It's easy to silently pout or take the other extreme and blame your partner as being the cause of your emotions. However, if you've resorted to this method (as I have done many times), you find out quickly that the result of the blame/accusation game usually results in your partner getting defensive and ready to fight or take flight. Not a productive way of arguing.
So how do you argue in a way that is conducive to the health and growth of the relationship, rather than in a way that is detrimental to it? One word. Compassion.
The minute you tell your angry mind and charged-up emotions to take a pause and try to be compassionate about how your partner is feeling, you change the direction. Instead of blaming and feeling victimized, tap into your empathic side. Try to see your partner's point of view, taking into consideration his past, his experiences and his trigger points that are very different from yours. Your partner may not be able to calm his anger or frustration, and in that event, you may decide that allowing space for both of you to cool down will have a more positive outcome in the end. Women tend to want to talk about their feelings right away, usually just to vent, as talking increases oxytocin, the feel-good chemical. Men, on the other hand, have an instinct to either fight or take flight when they are challenged or see a threat. You may think that a husband's argument with his wife may not compare to a caveman being threatened by a wild animal, but the response mechanisms are eerily similar (insert joke here).
Thus, in heated arguments, sometimes it's best to let the man retract in to his "cave" and once the emotions and anger levels calm down, then the two of you can sit down and have a mature conversation focused on moving forward, and how things can be improved. When that conversation does occur, note that while all you may want is to talk and feel understood, men are fixers that are solutions-driven. If being heard is all you want, then you may want to preface the conversation that you just want him to be all ears and try to understand your point of view.
The art of communication is an evolving one, and while you may think you've mastered it, you always are going to have to modify and adapt to the different people you interact with in your life -- all of whom will come with completely different styles and backgrounds. And while sometimes you can get so frustrated that you contemplate just giving up and walking out the door or some other extreme action, stop and think: "Will this action or these words help the relationship or harm it?" When you hit a certain point when you think you're about to blow a fuse, sometimes a little space and time really can save the day.
Amy Chan is a relationship columnist, and her blogs can be found on www.amyfabulous.com.