I often hear this narrative – even from other relationship coaches – that it’s “normal” to fight with our partners in a way where we feel resentful, notice everything that’s wrong with them, and yell at one another.
I feel annoyed by this, because while this might be typical, it’s not useful, and it’s not necessary.
Having someone yell at you means their anger is unintegrated and uncontrolled. I have never “yelled” at any of my partners – ever.
This is different than repressing anger. Jordan and I get angry at one another, but we always state it in a way that takes complete responsibility for our own emotions. There is no blaming on the other. There is no raising of voices.
In past relationships, when we fought, I often did sit in secret resentment – and those things that came up in my resentment? They were actually things that I disliked about the person day-to-day – both because I was with the wrong partner, and also because I didn’t know how to ask for everything I wanted in a relationship.
I can spend an entire day being angry toward Jordan, and I still don’t stir in all the things I hate about him, or why he’s so annoying for doing whatever he did. Instead, I notice where my boundary was crossed, I notice the emotion I’m feeling, and I validate that within myself. I express my anger on my own through an anger practice, or I talk to my inner child and support her myself. And then I express why I feel angry and how I feel hurt to him, in a way that takes ownership for how I’m feeling.
When Jordan and I fight, we end up more in love than we felt before the argument.
And I think that’s normal. Or what should be normal, in a healthy relationship when there are two people doing their own work.
These are the tips I’ve found most helpful when it comes to arguing with a partner:
1. Remember that you’re on the same team
Your partner and you are in a relationship because you love each other deeply. You’re working toward the same goal – which is probably some variation of having a relationship that helps you grow and bring one another into the highest versions of yourselves. It’s not ever you against your partner. It’s you interacting with one another’s inner child, the parts of them that experienced wounding growing up – and you’re doing those things in support of the relationship.
Your needs matter, and your boundaries should be respected. And… it’s also important to notice the health of the relationship as a whole.
You aren’t competing. You’re working to nourish the relationship. If the relationship is still something you want to nourish (and that’s worth considering, if you’re constantly fighting and aren’t sure), then it deserves you making it a priority, too. Sometimes prioritizing the relationship means voluntarily sitting in your own discomfort.
2. Clear with your partner on a regular basis
If you have a regular (read: weekly, at least) practice with your partner where you get to express how you’re feeling, there is no way for resentment to build. Name things as they come up. Consciously sit and check in with your partner. Jordan and I do a practice every week where we sit across from one another and share, starting with the sentence “Something I want you to know is…” We finish it with anything from things we’re sad, stressed, or angry about, to things we’re appreciative and excited about.
Name things as they arise instead of letting them build. If you’re getting constantly annoyed at something and you feel resentful because they always do it – but you’ve never told them it bothers you – that is your responsibility.
3. Validate your partner’s feelings
If your partner is expressing something to you, it can be helpful to take a deep breath and start by acknowledging that it makes sense for your partner to feel how they’re feeling. This is basically you saying that you understand how, if you were them and had all of their past experiences, you might also feel the same way.
The key sentence here is: “I understand how that could feel/felt _____ to you.”
“I understand how me not doing what you asked could feel frustrating to you.”
“I understand how it felt hurtful to you when I said that.”
“I understand how me looking at my phone could make it feel like I don’t care about what you’re saying.”
This doesn’t mean your partner is right, and it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.
It just acknowledges that you hear their feelings and that their feelings make sense from their perspective — and when you can do that, you can often then find common ground.
4. Truly listen
This goes for every moment of your relationship, but particularly when you’re arguing.
Listening to your partner isn’t about you hearing what they’re saying.
Listening to your partner isn’t even about you understanding what they’re saying.
Listening to your partner is about you giving them the gift of your entire presence.
You are giving them the gift of being heard.
This is something most people don’t know how to give. It involves putting down what we’re doing, fully focusing on our partners, and listening to hear, not listening just to respond.
Having 100% of our partner’s attention immediately can make us feel like the most loved, significant, and celebrated person in the entire world.
If your partner is talking to you and you are doing something else, try saying: “I want to give you my full attention. Can you tell me this in ten minutes?”
If you are talking to them and they are doing something else, try saying: “I want to tell you this story, but you look busy. Can I have your full attention? (or, when is a better time?)”
It’s not realistic to be able to give our partners our full attention all of the time, but it’s incredibly helpful, especially when the subject is important. If I don’t have my partner’s complete attention and I want it, I ask him for it – I don’t continue speaking while I secretly feel resentful that he isn’t listening.
If you’re feeling too triggered to fully listen during an argument, try saying, “I love you very much, but I need some space to process this a bit before I want to talk about it further.”
5. Listen for the emotion underneath what your partner is saying
Often, what we argue about isn’t really what we’re arguing about.
For example, maybe your partner gets annoyed when you throw the laundry on the floor — but what’s underneath that is that they feel like you don’t care about their opinions or feelings.
Maybe your partner gets aggravated when you complain about them not texting you back—but what’s underneath that is that they feel hurt you don’t trust how much they care about you, and it makes them feel like a failure.
There are always layers to how we’re feeling. Look for the emotion that is coming up for your partner.
At the root of many emotional reactions is that we are feeling unloved, unsafe, or not good enough.
This will give you compassion for your partner, and help you to not take things they complain about personally.
(This doesn’t excuse abusive or awful behavior — it is possible to understand the root of your partners reactions and still not tolerate them treating you badly).
6. Own your own triggers and wounding
When having an argument, continually check in with your own body to understand what’s happening. Notice what its activating in you and where you feel it physically in your body.
Usually, arguments with our partners either trigger things from our past relationships or things from our childhoods. Recognizing this will be super helpful, because you’ll begin to understand that the other person is not ever “making” you feel a certain way. Rather, something they’re doing is triggering something in you. That trigger might be completely wonderful (if someone was being mean to you, you might get defensive and angry and set a boundary – wonderful), and it also might not be showing the full picture of what is happening.
Our brains continually look for the stories we want to prove correct. For example, I have a big story (coming from my childhood) that other people don’t understand me and want to criticize me and make me wrong. Because of this wounding, my mind will search for ways that Jordan doesn’t understand me and is making me wrong. And it’s wild to notice the ways that I create this, when it has never been true. I’ll imagine his silence, for example, means something that it completely doesn’t, or I’ll decide that he’s saying something because he really means something else about me, and that is also not true.
Over time, you’ll get to know a few of your core wounds – pieces that come up again and again in most areas of your life, particularly relationships. And you can start to discern between when it’s a false danger, and when there is a boundary that truly needs to be set.
7. Make an effort to see your partner and meet their needs
Your partner is different than you. This means that their needs are different than yours, and their entire world perspective might be different than yours.
Not only that, but you and your partner are both changing every single day.
Essentially, your partner is a tiny little bit different every time you see them. Which is really the most beautiful thing in the world, when you think about it. We get to choose one another over and over again.
This means that it’s incredibly important to get to know your partner and their needs — and to understand that needs can change over time.
Part of being a caring partner is to get to know your partner’s core wounds: what triggers them the most? Do they often feel insecure or unloved by you? Do they often feel unsafe?
Can you check in with them to see if they are actually feeling that way, or if you’re projecting that onto them?
How can you better meet their needs?
8. Tell your partner what you want and need from them
While it’s true it’s partially your responsibility to learn about your partner and to help them work on themselves, if your partner never tells you what they’re feeling or why, you’ll probably have a hard time.
And it goes both ways: do you tell your partner what you need? Or do you expect them to read your mind, and then get mad when they don’t?
Perhaps the most important part of communicating well with our partners is to understand *ourselves* so deeply that we know what is coming up for us in each moment.
This is a long process, and doesn’t happen overnight. It requires understanding our own wounds and getting to know our partner’s, so we can express when they are triggering us and understand when we are triggering them (and not take it so personally).
Prep your partner ahead of time. Let them know what often comes up for you and the best way they can respond to it. Let them know in the moment, if you can. And whenever you have a breakdown or a conflict, talk about it after and let them know what came up for you and how you would like them to respond to a similar moment next time.
And let them know how you would like to respond better next time, too.
Relationships frequently have the same “themes” come up in arguments — the key is to understand why, what this theme activates in you, and to learn how to deal with it better and better, together.
If you take only one thing away from this piece, I hope it’s this: You and your partner are on the same side.
You both deserve to be in a relationship that is super loving and fulfilling, and where you don’t feel resentful or annoyed with one another on a regular basis.