A Constructive Guide to Arguments

We all get into disagreements or arguments with those we love. It is how we handle them that will either provide feelings of connection and resolution or resentment and withdrawal. A way to set the stage for you and your loved one to have constructive arguments is to set some ground rules. Here are some basic rules to help get you started. 

Take time to explore your own feelings.

Are you angry because your partner did not take out the recycling on time, and it only comes every two weeks? “Are you angry because your partner missed parent-teacher conferences twice this week?” Taking the time to think about your own feelings before starting the argument can help to better express yourself. Try to find your feelings below the anger. Do you feel underappreciated, lonely, or sad? 

Do not avoid your feelings of anger, upset, or hurt. Take time to explore them but do not sit with them for too long. If you hold onto them for too long while you “explore them” you may blurt them out another time and say something you might regret. Just because there is some temporary anger means there is not any less love. 

Discuss one topic at a time/ Don’t dig up the past.

Don’t have “you forgot to bring the laundry upstairs” become “you play too many video games”. When our conversations get off topics, they are more likely to escalate, and less likely to solve the problem you started with. 

If your partner comes to you with a disagreement do not go digging for something that also made you upset in order to defend yourself. Deal with the issue they came to you about first, and if you need to talk about a past problem set another time aside to do so. 

No degrading language/mean comments/ or yelling. 

Discuss the problem, not the person. Separating the issue from the individuals involved can help to foster a more clear constructive conversation. Do not put one another down, name call, or use profanity. Language like that is used to express negative intentions or feelings and makes the other feel bad. 

Use I-statements.

I statements are when you structure your emotions in the form of “ I feel emotion when event occurs.

Examples:

“I feel worried when you are late coming home from work and have not heard from you.” 

“ I feel upset when I have to go to an appointment alone that we were supposed to do together.” 

“I” statements express how you feel while taking responsibility for your emotions and can take away the feeling of blame being placed on the other. Although, using “I” does not give permission to ignore all other rules discussed. 

Take turns being an active listener and paraphrase. 

Give each other your full attention while the other is speaking. Withhold from making corrections or waiting to just say what you want to say. If you find difficulty giving each other time to speak uninterrupted, set a timer for 1 minute. At the end of each minute, before the listening partner can offer their feedback, they must then paraphrase what they heard from their partner, and ask if they heard them correctly or missed anything important.  

Time Outs/Breaks. 

Sometimes emotions are too high to have a constructive conversation. If an argument becomes too personal or escalated, then call a timeout. Agree on when you will come back together again to continue the discussion once all involved can take a moment to recollect themselves and cool down. Be sure to come back to the conversation and hold each other accountable. 

Do not fight with each other when you are tired or hungry. There is that saying that has been floating around for centuries, “Never go to bed angry.” This is not true. If you are tired and need to take a break and rest, go do so! You will feel much better after your needed break and be able to offer more to each other than you could when you were tired. 

Compromise and understanding. 

Some disagreements will not feel like there is a perfect solution. Work together to try your best at a compromise. With compromise comes some give and take from both sides. If you can not reach a compromise then take time to continue understanding each other’s perspective to work through negative feelings. 


These are all some basic guidelines for fair arguing and experiencing constructive disagreements. You may learn through time and experience other rules that may work best for you and your partner. Starting with these guidelines can help you begin to take control over your arguments and allow space for growth and connection.