Bickering is seemingly harmless, but it can feel quite stressful to you or your partner. Bickering, over time, can lead to exhaustion in the relationship, eventually leading you to one or all of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
The four horsemen of the apocalypse is a phrase used to refer to the four attributes within a relationship that signify the impending end of one's relationship. The four horsemen are Defensiveness, Criticism, Stonewalling, & Contempt.
Often, bickering involves a level of defensiveness and criticism which fuels the argument or disagreement. As the defensiveness and criticism heat up, one partner may begin stonewalling. Stonewalling is shutting down communication without resolution or explanation. This would be like if you were driving down the street and a construction team pulled right in front of you and started tearing up the road and building a brick wall right in the middle of the street. Pretty frustrating right? It's no wonder that stonewalling might lead to contempt.
Contempt is a covert attribution of negative sentiments and significant anger toward your partner. Someone who looks at their partner with contempt might say something like, "Only someone as dumb as you would say that..." or "Only you could say something so hurtful!" If you or your partner have reached the point of contempt, seek help immediately! It is not long until this deteriorates your relationship which might lead to affairs, separation, or divorce.
Bickering is a sign of emotional immaturity. It is only concerned about one's own point of view and refuses to see things from a more full perspective. This is not good for communication and without good communication, any relationship, even with compatible partners, will fail.
So here are some techniques to help you and your partner stop bickering:
1) Let go of your need to be right—Many battles won is a relationship lost. If you or your partner's goal in a disagreement is only to "be right," without adding value to the relationship, or with the intent of "improving [changing] your partner," let it go. Losing that battle is more important to the success of your relationship and the well-being of your partner.
2) Speak to the emotion, not the logic—this involves recognizing what emotion your partner is reacting to. The reality is that when we become overcome with a difficult emotion, parts of the executive functioning of our brain begin to shut down. We don't communicate as well, say things we don't mean, and try to express an emotion that we have not fully understood yet. Try reflecting their emotion back to them: "I can see my perspective is making you very upset. Help me understand."
3) Pick your battles—"It's not that serious..." Some arguments are just not worth it. Sometimes we bicker over such trivial matters. The issue is that what is important to us may not be important to our partners and vice versa. If it's not that important to you, stop arguing and simply agree to disagree and let it end at that. If it is important to your partner, let them follow their convictions. This is not the same as stonewalling. Stonewalling rejects the idea of a conversation or discussion. Picking your battles allows the conversation to exist, but acknowledging the consequences of the conversation are minimal at best whether or not you might disagree. The key is to be honest with yourself here. If it is important to you, speak up! If not, let your partner have the air space.
4) Take a breather—when things get heated, take a break from the conversation with every intent on returning to it after you have cooled off. Take a moment to process your emotions—not your thoughts, your emotions. Reflect on your partner's emotions—not their argument, their emotions. Do something kind for yourself, then do something kind for your partner. If you are able to extend kindness to the person you are in conflict with, then it might be safe to revisit the conversation. When revisiting the conversation, listen first, ask questions to understand, clarify, and then reflect their perspective back to them to let them know they have been heard. If relevant, give your perspective and ask if they can understand why you might see things the way you do.
Communication is difficult and imperfect. Working with a licensed professional can help you learn and practice healthy, effective communication skills which can enhance your relationship and save you the heartache in the relationship.
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