The average UK couple argues six times a month. Tired of trading jousts with your partner? Here are simple ways to break the pattern.
I always assumed Britain was the land of repressed emotions and mildness. What piffle! In fact, research conducted by eHarmony has revealed that even the stiffest of upper lips can’t hold emotion in for long: UK couples fight with each other, on average, SIX times a month.
If that’s you, it’s not necessarily bad news. Earlier research has shown that 44 per cent of couples believe that frequent arguments aren’t destructive to the relationship, but simply a means of “keeping communication open”. Some couples seem to thrive on frequent bickering, and releasing pressure frequently is obviously a lot less destructive than saving up years of disagreement to be released on one huge, destructive rush.
But arguments are always a risk. And they’re a waste of time. When you’re arguing, you’re not laughing, bonking or having fun. So if you’re finding things becoming regularly heated at home, here are five simple, and unexpected, ways you can break the pattern.
1. Track your rows
To find an underlying reason for your rows, it’s a good idea to keep a note of when and where they happen, just in case there’s a subtle, reliable, trigger. So for a month, keep a note of your arguments. Were you both tired and stressed, after work, or on a journey together somewhere? Had you been drinking? Had you been cooped up together with no exercise or fresh air (HELLO, LOCKDOWN)? Was the house messy? Were you feeling ill, or worried…?
After the month, read back through your record and see if you can identify a pattern. When you find yourself in similar situations in the future, remind yourself that you’re more likely to lose your temper, and try to keep your cool. Research has shown that “transition times” in the day (when you’re leaving the house, or coming home) are the most likely times for couples to argue, so try not to bring up controversial subjects at those periods.
2. Keep a gratitude journal
While you’re writing down the rows, also write down the good things that happen between you and your partner. Repeated studies have shown that gratitude can relieve depression, and even change the neural networks in the brain in a positive way.
So, instead of mulling over the bad things about your other half, consciously notice, and note down, the good things that they do for you. When you’re feeling appreciative of your partner, you’re much less likely to get annoyed by minor irritations.[I know— any more of these writing tips and you’ll begin to suspect I’m just trying to keep your hands busy so you can’t punch someone… On a related note, only use paperback journals, nothing hard or heavy that might draw blood if thrown.]
3. Have make-up sex before the argument
Don’t wait until after the row to fall into bed; fall into bed before you have the row. Many spats come from a feeling of loneliness or insecurity, and the bedroom is the perfect place to soothe those issues. If you were annoyed about a minor niggle, chances are you’ll forget about it by the time you hit the afterglow stage. If you were annoyed about a bigger issue, you can use the natural, post-coital oxytocin boost to discuss it together as a couple.
The best time to solve problems in the relationship is when you’re both feeling loved and happy. If you’re too angry to make love, try holding onto your partner while you discuss whatever’s bothering you. (Note: not round the throat.) Stroke their arm, or hold their hand. Studies have shown that couples can discuss heated subjects more considerately when they’re touching each other.
Many couples fall into the habit of having long, drawn-out disagreements. These are dangerous, as the longer a row goes on, the more likely you are to dredge up past issues, or fall into personal attacks.
Try to make your arguments as quick and painless as possible. Follow the example of professional boxers and set a time limit. Give each of you an allotted time (say, two minutes) to state your case. If you haven’t reached an agreement after that, take a five-minute break and get away from each other to cool down. (Leaving the room is a known way to calm down.) Then, reset the timer and begin round two.
At first you might miss the adrenaline rush of a longer fight, especially if you use arguments to get attention. Over time, you’ll probably find that a brief conversation is all you need to find a solution, and then you can concentrate on building longer, positive, interactions together.
5. Look for a long-term fix
If you habitually argue about the same subjects, it’s time to find a workable long-term solution now, when you’re not actively angry about it. If you can’t find an immediate solution, then find a future fix that you both agree to, and that you can work towards together.
Most arguments are repetitive. Even if the solution is years away, agreeing on it now—even writing it down, as a contract—will keep you feeling like you’re on the same team. The most destructive pattern that a couple can fall into is avoiding trigger topics altogether because they can’t find a compromise. That’s when the stiff upper lip becomes the beginning of a slide into silence.
This feature was originally published on Readers Digest.