There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship in which neither party picks a fight, ever. If that is the case, chances are both parties are avoiding the hard stuff, or not getting deep and vulnerable with one another to express how they really feel about a situation, a moment, or something that was said. We can tell a lot about ourselves and our romantic partners by the way we respond to inevitable conflict, so it’s a good idea to detect what your argument style is, and consider your partner’s, too.
First of all, we don’t mean to point a finger at anyone for any particular argument style. These tactical responses are typically formed in childhood, either through how our parents treated us or how we witnessed them treat each other. However, being aware of your argument style can help you choose and evolve better tactics for dealing with conflict in the future. Here are the main styles to consider.
If you tend to shut down, become quiet, or withdraw completely, you’re an Avoidant Arguer. The conflict itself makes you feel uneasy, so instead of working on solutions, you choose to exit the situation as much as possible. It’s OK to need space after someone has brought something less than glowing about you or their experience of you to light, but pulling away completely can make them feel like you don’t care. Try calmly (and lovingly, if you can muster it) asking them for some time to think before responding, so that you can withdraw in the heat of the moment and provide solutions for them later.
If you feel constantly criticized every time your partner has an issue, you might be a Defender. You may feel like things are only OK when they are going perfectly smooth, and anytime someone has an issue, it makes you feel rejected, wrong about everything, stupid, or like a failure. It’s a default mode that only succeeds in making the other person feel unheard, unseen, and like their feelings are invalidated. Instead of making the moment about you and how you’re being made to feel like a failure, consider the hurt they are expressing to you and how you can see it from their side, explain how you don’t mean it to come off that way, and find a solution together.
You come in hot. You don’t passively beat around the bush, which is great at saving time and the headache of a guessing game, but it can also feel like a lot all at once, and immediately set your partner on the defensive. It often involves blatant blaming, a lot of “you” statements, and superlatives that don’t give much space for the other party; think words like “you always…” or “you never…” These phrases can feel really definitive and hopeless, while only relaying anger instead of the hurt you’re feeling. It’s an ineffective way to receive comfort or understanding from the party being attacked.
If you’re the one who can’t drop a subject, won’t give it a necessary pause, or continues to bring it up at the most inopportune moments, you may be a Persistent Arguer. When your partner or loved one needs some space, you call them repeatedly, drown them in text messages, or show up at their doorstep. You get anxious about leaving anything open for thought and have trouble leaving things on the table for a while to think. This ultimately makes the other person feel suffocated and attacked, and oftentimes uncared for as it may ignore their need for space. Take a moment to pause and do a calming activity that takes your mind off of the conflict so that you don’t become consumed by anxiety while the other person gets the space they need.
If you’re someone who prefers to take the fall for something so that the argument can be over quicker, you are likely an Accommodator. You’re happy to agree with everything the other person says so that you can apologize and conclude the conflict. The issue here is that you may not be taking the time to really understand the issues, and are just shutting things down with feigned understanding. It may also give the other person too much power, believing that they are always right in every argument, and finding more reasons to be upset, enabling a cycle and unhealthy power dynamic. It’s great if you like to apologize and own your struggles, but take time to fully hear things, and don’t be afraid to share your perspective.