8 Tips to Make Your Arguments More Productive—and Fair
Relationship experts weigh in on the best ways to keep your fights fair and have arguments that are actually productive.
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Fighting in relationships is normal. Yes, even the happiest couples argue, and if done correctly, relationship fights can be productive and fair. Arguing over doing the dishes or who’s going to take out the trash every week isn’t productive. But big topics like finances and when or if to start a family? Those are topics worth discussing and even disagreeing over.
The way you and your partner argue, no matter the topic, can help determine how you two will tackle future problems. To avoid a screaming match or arguing that leads to nowhere, we spoke with several relationship experts who weigh in on how to turn relationship fights into productive and fair conversations that offer resolutions.
Take a deep breath
When arguing with your partner, your first instinct may be to yell or even be insulting to get your point heard. Don’t get off track with hateful words. “We become so focused on our next point that we do not pay attention to what we are saying in the moment,” says J. Hope Suis, a relationship expert in Greenville, South Carolina and author of Mid-Life Joyride: Love In The Single Lane. “Rushing to speak without thinking can lead you to say things that are destructive and serve no real purpose.”
Avoid the blame game
Using argumentative phrases like “You never/always” puts your love interest on the defense. “Sweeping, blanket statements do nothing but incite more anger,” says Suis. “Instead of trying to convince them of the magnitude of the problem, focus on the actual problem.” Instead, she suggests, “try something like this: ‘When you say you will be home by 7 p.m., but don’t text to say you will be late, it makes me worried.’ Or: ‘It would be very helpful if we had a schedule for the household chores.’ By being specific about the issue and clearly stating what you need in return, there leaves less room for debate and more for compromise.”
Be more sensitive
Arguments are very emotional exchanges and some of us are highly sensitive and our response can appear disproportionate to the issue. “However, it serves no purpose to ridicule or mock your partner when they are upset,” says Suis. Propose a time-out to calm down and gather your thoughts, she suggests. “This shows you are still willing to listen, but need a break to calm down the situation.”
Don’t threaten a break-up
Never say the words “I’m out of here” unless you are 100 percent committed to following through, says Suis. “If that is your go-to phrase to end an argument, you will soon lose credibility with your partner,” she adds. “If you are truly considering leaving the marriage/relationship that information should not be thrown out in the heat of the moment.”
Accept a viewpoint even if you don’t share it
Don’t try to change your partner’s opinion, says Celeste Headlee, author of We Need To Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter. “It’s OK for the other person to hold an opinion that’s different from yours, even if you think they’re dead wrong,” she says. “Ask yourself, will anything change if they change their mind? If the answer is no, then find a way to accept that you disagree.”
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to decisions about a child’s education or medical care or other situations in which their opinion affects a real-world decision. “But most arguments don’t fall in that category,” says Headlee. “In most cases, it simply bothers us when we have a strong belief and a loved one thinks very differently.”
Hear the complete grievance
Listen to what your significant other has to say, all the way to the end. “Don’t assume you know what they’re saying after hearing only a few words and then stop listening while you simply wait for your chance to respond,” Headlee advises. “Take a breath after they finish a sentence before you answer and use that time to think about what you just heard. Many arguments occur because of miscommunication and misunderstandings. You can prevent that if you set a goal of understanding what the other person is telling you.”
Don’t say “Yes, but…”
Using the phrase “Yes, but” is a passive-aggressive way to disagree with your partner and opens the door to an adverse reaction, says Jen Elmquist, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Relationship Reset: Secrets from a Couples Therapist That Will Revolutionize Your Love for a Lifetime. In this context the “but” cancels out the affirmative yes, she says. “Using ‘yes, but’ in conversations closes you off to each other, creating distance and isolation while setting you up for conflict,” says Elmquist.
Restart your conversation
Instead of shutting the conversation down, a better approach is to take a deep breath and tell your partner you need some time to think. “Then tell them how long you need—10 minutes, an hour or an afternoon, but you need to set a time to continue the conversation,” Elmquist suggests. Now, take this pause to collect your thoughts and assess your own concerns. “The answers to these questions are your lead-in phrases for restarting the conversation,” she says.
- J. Hope Suis, a relationship expert in Greenville, South Carolina and author of Mid-Life Joyride: Love In The Single Lane
- Celeste Headlee, author of We Need To Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter
- Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Relationship Reset: Secrets from a Couples Therapist That Will Revolutionize Your Love for a Lifetime