It’s healthy to argue. And most people can have civil arguments with one another. But when do we know that the discourse has gone too far? Or how do we distinguish a healthy argument from an unhealthy one with a significant other?
It’s really quite simple. And it all boils down to ultimately the respect that is shown to the other person. You can have a disagreement with your loved one, but the moment belittling, name-calling, or threats come into play, the disagreement has turned into a nasty manipulation tactic, used as a means to coerce the other party into blind submission. All respect for the other individual’s feelings or perspective have been completely thrown out the proverbial window and it is now just a matter of forcing that other person to submit to your will. And that, ladies and gents, is a manifestation of an unhealthy argument, which is a HUGE red flag.
I remember my fights with my abusive ex so vividly. They weren’t always melodramatic or like scenes out of a Hollywood film. Sometimes they were insidiously subtle. But every time we argued, I felt like I had to explain my perspective until I was blue in the face and always to no avail. I felt like I was talking to a brick wall and, at times, the frustration of trying to explain my logic to him was so incredibly disheartening that I was left with no other alternative except to feel like I really was crazy, therefore defaulting to his way of thinking. He never conceded. He was always right.
At times, he would threaten to break up with me if I didn’t bend to his will. There were plenty finger-pointing tactics, where I was overreacting and I was the one to blame for his outbursts. These arguments usually ended with me huddled in a corner somewhere, hugging my knees, crying from pure frustration. Then, when I was feeling particularly slighted, it would simply be a yelling match, rather than a discussion. To this day, I shudder at the thought of how we sounded to the neighbors. At no point did we ever have a talk about each other’s differing viewpoints and how we could reach some sort of compromise. And eventually I would begin avoiding such arguments and just jump to the part where I conceded to his will in order to “keep the peace.”
It’s hard to know in such a heated moment that how you are being treated is unfair. So here are some signs to watch out for. It is not a healthy argument if your significant other:
1. Calls you nasty names (ex: “You’re such a bitch!”)
2. Belittles you (ex: “You’re too stupid to understand.”)
3. Ignores your perspective (ex: “You’re wrong!”)
4. Does not allow you to talk (ex: “No, YOU listen to ME!”)
5. Intimidates you (ex: corners you physically or looms over you)
6. Gives ultimatums (ex: “I’m gonna break up with you if you don’t do as I say!”)
7. Threatens you (ex: “You better shut up now or I’ll . . .”)
8. Uses physical force of any kind (ex: anything from holding to hitting)
9. Decides when the argument is over (ex: “I’m done talking about this. This discussion is over.”)
10. Gaslights you (ex: “You’re overreacting because you’re crazy and don’t know what you’re talking about!”)
I’m sure the list could go on, and please feel free to list more in the comments if you like.
So if this is how an unhealthy argument can be, how do you have a healthy one?
Respect the other person’s need to express themselves. Respect their perspective and concede to the fact that they may be right or you both may be right. Learn to compromise. If you need to cool down before discussing the issue any further, let your partner know that you need some time alone and calmly walk away, but never leave without explanation or a promise to come back and talk it out. Let your partner speak their mind and then when they are done, give your counter argument or explanation. Try not to interrupt the other and try to always include in your reasoning anything they may have said, so they know that you were listening to them. And most importantly, treat them like you would want to be treated.
It can be difficult in the middle of an argument to cool down and listen to the other’s point of view, but think of how unfair it is to not be heard. And an abusive relationship is the very definition of one person dominating another person in various ways. So it is a matter of perspective and how you approach the discourse. If you go in wanting nothing other than to prove yourself right, then what is the likelihood of you actually listening to the other person? Enter the discussion with merely a desire to express your feelings and your thoughts on the matter, while simultaneously being prepared to listen to the opposing side with an open mind. I’m sure we could all practice this sort of discourse even among our friends and family. I am still learning how to approach certain arguments, especially the sort which are politically or religiously charged in nature, with this type of sober mentality.
Just remember, our key word here is respect. If you do not feel respected during an argument then it is likely not a healthy one. I hope this was helpful and if anyone has anything they would like to add, please do so in the comments.