Are you the type of person who would do anything to avoid a row, or are you never happier than when you vent your feelings? Well the good news is that experts tell us that not only are regular rows with our loved one’s normal, but they can actually be good for our health.
When you live with someone or spend a lot of time with them, rows are inevitable. The closer we are to someone else the more we become aware of the differences between us. Not just differences in the way we do things – how we go about brushing our teeth, squeezing the toothpaste and loading the dishwasher – but also differences in the way we think and the values we have. Differences that are not talked through carefully can easily lead to misunderstandings and rows.
Good rows, the sort that enables both parties to say how they feel and get issues resolved. The sort that enable you to acknowledge the other’s perspective are very healthy. The other kind of row, where we say things we regret, are not good and can undermine the very fabric of a relationship.
When used properly, arguments can be very cathartic and can vitalise the body and soul. Most of us are pretty rubbish at rows, except perhaps lawyers and children – and most of us hate arguing and don’t do it very well.
Jonathan Herring, author of “How to Argue Powerfully, Persuasively, Positively,” ( Pearson Life) tells us that, “Arguments are great tools when used properly.”
Here are ten tips to improve your rowing skills that don’t involve bloodshed, broken crockery or dented frying pans…
1. Choose your battleground wisely, in other words choose the time and place to express how you feel – avoid public rows, but select your venue as soon as possible so that you can vent your spleen sooner rather than later.
2. Offload only as much ammunition as you need to do the job. Keep the message brief. Say exactly what you need to say initially. Ask the other person to listen while you deliver your opening salvo. Once the other person has received what you have got off your chest, don’t belabour the point because if you do so, that runs the risk of rubbing it in (dirty fighting!) or of escalating the exchange.
3. If the person does not hear you, and this can happen often in the case of a row, because the “thinking” part of the brain automatically disconnects as a result of the “fight and flight” response. Use assertive repetition to emphasise your point – but don’t rub it in (dirty fighting!)
4. Use specific, objective language. Avoid generalisations like “always” and “never”. Describe ( don’t label) the behaviour you are angry about. Try saying something like, “you’ve just interrupted me twice,” rather than, “you’re always rude and inconsiderate”.
5. You may find it helpful to use what I call the “three finger exercise,” where you incorporate “I” statements and “feeling talk:”
I FEEL ( your feelings)
WHEN/BECAUSE (behaviour you dislike)
NEXT TIME, I WOULD PREFER (behaviour you desire)
For example: I FEEL really annoyed, BECAUSE you didn’t ask my opinion before you made that decision. NEXT TIME, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO consult me before making a decision that affects us both.
6. Avoid character attacks. Remember to respect the person even if you don’t approve of the behaviour. For example, if your partner leaves his or her clothes in a pile on the floor instead of putting them in the laundry basket, don’t criticise and call them “inconsiderate or lazy,” all this does is create negative perceptions on both sides. Instead use the above three finger exercise to highlight the behaviour you do not like and what you would like them to do in future.
7. Do not sulk or stonewall, refusing to talk or listen. This is “passive aggressive” behaviour and actually shows disrespect and possibly contempt, while at the same time inflames the underlying conflict. It is much better to listen and discuss things in a respectful manner.
8. Where possible aim for a compromise or agree to disagree, remember that there is not a “right” or a ” wrong” way to look at things. You cannot ” make” the other person see your way, don’t take is as a personal attack if they have a different opinion.
9. If you are likely to “explode” you need to consider using a technique known as ” time-out.” It has been used successfully by many people to stop their anger surfacing in an unhealthy manner. While it won’t solve arguments, it will ensure that you and those around you are safe. Follow these four steps BEFORE YOU EXPLODE, rather than picking up the pieces afterwards:
Step 1 – When you feel your anger rising and you notice your body becoming tense, say to the other person: “I a beginning to feel angry and I need to take time-out.”
Step 2 – Remove yourself from the situation for half an hour. No shorter. No longer.
Step 3 – Do something physical and relaxing, such as taking a walk.
Step 4 – When half an hour has elapsed, return. Check in with the other person, offer to talk about the problem if they feel like discussing it.
Do not use time-out to get out of work or things you do not wish to do – that is unfair.
10. Finally, remember that poor communication weakens bonds, creates mistrust and erodes relationships. While good communication can strengthen relationships, build closeness and increase intimacy. It helps to develop trust and mutual support.
Until next time.
With best wishes, Steve.
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Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
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