Communication is an important part of any healthy relationship. But what happens if you and a partner, friend, or relative have a disagreement? It’s okay to disagree—in fact, it’s even healthy. Let’s look at a few ways to keep arguments productive, and not destructive.

“Jerry, that is so like you. You always ignore me when I’m trying to talk to you. Remember last month when I tried to tell you about my birthday plans and as always, you weren’t listening. Are you even capable of listening to me?”

Let’s examine what was said to try to make a more healthy conversation:

“…that is so like you…. Are you even capable of listening to me?”

Phrases like these might make a person feel attacked. It’s okay to be critical of behavior, but it’s hurtful to criticize the person. It could also show that the person speaking doesn’t think highly of them, or that they are beneath them. It’s important for people in a relationship to feel equally valued, even when having an argument.

You always ignore me… as always, you weren’t listening…”

Avoid words like ‘always’ and ‘never’. Identify the behavior that is causing an issue, and try to explain how that behavior affects you. Also, try not to use too many ‘you’ statements. Focus the conversation on both people, and how both people can be positively affected.

Remember last month when…”

When having a disagreement, it’s important to live in the present, not in the past. If having an issue, a person should bring up problems when they happen—don’t wait until it’s too late. Otherwise, when an argument happens in the future, it will suddenly be about all the problems that have been happening lately. This unhealthy communication behavior is called a kitchen sink argument. Because it’s not just one issue—it’s everything that’s been piling up in the kitchen sink.

How could this scenario be improved?

“Jerry, sometimes when we talk I feel hurt because it seems like I am not being heard when I speak. It would make me feel so much better if when we spoke, we could have more eye contact so we both know we’re listening to one another.”

Next time feelings are hurt, think about ways to make the conversation more of a disagreement, and less of a fight.

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