Why figuring out your arguing style is the key to a happy relationship
If you’re in a relationship, at some point you will argue. That’s not a bad thing. It’s healthy to argue, and, in fact, being in a relationship with absolutely zero arguments could be a sign that things aren’t going that well. It’s essential in a partnership that both people are able to voice their views and discuss their disagreements. But there’s a big difference between healthy arguments and those that become nasty slinging matches.
The key to avoiding the latter – and making sure your arguments are actually constructive to your relationship, not destructive – lies in knowing what your and your partner’s arguing styles are. So, what are the different arguing styles out there? Invalidation Psychologist and dating coach Jo Hemmings tells Metro.co.uk that invalidation can be a common method of arguing, depending on ‘trying to unnerve your partner by devaluing or ridiculing what they have to say and the feelings behind those words.’ An invalidating arguer will bring up their partner’s previous faults or their character flaws to convince them that what they’re saying is entirely ridiculous. This is the arguing style used in gaslighting.
Dominance What it says on the tin. If you have a dominant arguing style, you’re more able to take charge of an argument.
You’ll be quicker responding and your partner might need a moment to catch up. The non-arguer This style depends on refusing to argue, and often manifests as giving the silent treatment. ‘This can be very frustrating for the other partner who finds it impossible to find any opinion, communication or connection in the silent one,’ says Jo, ‘often rendering them even more angry. It’s almost impossible for anyone but the silent partner to “win” that argument.’ Hitting below the belt This type of arguer lashes out, bringing up past issues that they know will derail the present conversation. They’ll deliberately delve into areas that are sensitive, exploiting vulnerabilities and thus breaking the trust of their partner. They might threaten to leave their partner as part of the argument, too.
Disinterested This style requires you to pretend you don’t care about the outcome of the argument. You might say it’s a ‘silly’ fight anyway, that it doesn’t matter, or you’ll agree in an offhand way that shows you’re not taking any of the disagreement seriously. Jo says a disinterested arguer will ‘behave as if they have given in without actually agreeing, which effectively robs their partner of their “win” as it diminishes the value of the subject which may be important to them, leaving them feeling foolish or frustrated.
Pleasing If you’re a pleaser, you’re the type that just hates all conflict and can’t stand disagreeing with your partner. You’re likely to just agree to whatever they say to stop a fight in its tracks and avoid further anger. Once you know your arguing style… what now? (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk) You might not fit into one of these categories (well done, you might be the perfect arguer with not a single unhealthy habit) or you might fit into multiple, employing different tactics depending on the argument. You also might find it far easier to tick off your other half’s arguing style than your own. Psychology Today has a rather handy quiz that breaks down your arguing style, in case you have no clue.
Once you recognise your arguing style and your partner’s, what comes next is working out how to deal with a clash, understanding which arguing behaviours are destructive rather than constructive, and stopping them before they get out of hand. ‘Some styles, like hitting below the belt or invalidation are especially destructive approaches to arguing,’ explains Jo. ‘Other styles maybe more productive ultimately. ‘Whichever style you’re using, the arguments that are less volatile and more like a ‘heated discussion’ and have some sort of resolution are the most productive ones. ‘It is these kinds of productive arguments that distinguish couples who are more likely to stay together than those that have a more destructive style.’ Shirlee Kay, a couples therapist working in London, simplifies this with one question: is your argument reactive or reflective? Reactive arguing is when couples aren’t thinking through their responses, but just batting back at the verbal hits. If you’re in a reactive argument, you feel hurt, vulnerable, and feel you need to protect yourself. You might then use one of the damaging arguing styles above, such as hitting below the belt, gaslighting, or saying painful things to each other. Reflective arguing is what the name suggests. ‘This is when couples are conscious of their own feelings and are able to slow down and pause before responding,’ says Shirlee. ‘This is when couples are able to listen, acknowledge, see the other’s point of view, compromise and let their partner know that their argument isn’t endangering the relationship.’ You can probably guess which arguing style is better – arguing in a reflective way means you’re prioritising the relationship above ‘winning’ the argument, and are taking the time to remain calm, consider the other person’s feelings, and respond in a way you won’t feel awful about immediately after.