Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria
“You always do this, and I hate it. You always cancel on me last minute,” he wrote to me via text.
I responded, “I do not always cancel, and I’m literally giving you three days’ notice right now!”
“Well, I already reserved that day for the trip! . . . let’s not argue,” he wrote back.
What comes to mind when you hear the word argue?
In the past, it denoted something negative in my mind—quarrels like what I shared above, laced with pent up frustration and misunderstanding. I hated arguing because of the resulting tension and awkwardness, so I would avoid it at all costs. This meant I would sometimes give up on a relationship rather than tackle issues I knew would lead to arguments.
But I’ve come to learn that healthy arguments with your significant other are possible. It is a process—it takes time to form an understanding of each other’s character and temperament, and to develop effective habits of communication. The intricacies of what a healthy argument looks like vary greatly from relationship to relationship, but there are steps we can take to argue well. Here are a few ways I try to keep my arguments healthy . . .
1. Ask questions before you react.
In a past relationship, my boyfriend liked to tease me relentlessly. The catch was, I didn’t like being teased. I found that a tease could easily turn from playful to hurtful, and I often questioned the motivation behind the words he uttered, even when they appeared to be playful banter.
During an argument once, instead of becoming angry, I tried to stay positive, keep calm, and ask questions that would help clarify his meaning. Leaning on wisdom from James 1:19, I tried to listen and not jump to conclusions; I mentally coached myself to reign in the anger I could feel rising up within me until I clarified the situation.
Many times, when I gave him time to explain, it turned out to be nothing worth getting angry at. Other times, unearthing hidden messages behind his jesting comments allowed me to understand his opinion and consider whether it was meritorious or not. Then, only after I had processed the information and calmed my mind, I would be better equipped to discuss the topic with him, and work towards a resolution.
2. Let grace guide you.
Another piece of advice that has been formative to me, is to,
Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).
In my relationship that was riddled with teasing, letting our interactions be full of grace meant my significant other learned to gauge when I was in a good mood for banter. I, on the other hand, learned the art of relaxing a little and teasing him right back. I realized that if I wanted a wholesome relationship, then I should be flexible enough to enjoy his way of expressing his fondness for me. I learned to be gracious toward him, and his habits that I could have done without, even as he was gracious toward me.
3. Don’t drag in the past.
When the Lord gave Moses various laws for His people, He gave relationship advice that holds true today.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
I think it’s important to take every argument at face value, without making the waters murky by bringing in grudges from past arguments.
You may ask why? Because I’ve learned that linking a current argument to something in the past tends to make the conversation more hurtful and weighty. The significant other I referenced at the beginning of this piece would frequently use the word “always” when we had arguments, inviting any negative opinion he had formed of me on an issue—let’s say cancelling plans—to drive his response to the current situation. To avoid this, we learned to isolate the situation at hand, and talk through it together.
Keeping an argument independent and as a standalone event reduces its gravity and makes it easier to avoid constantly regurgitating and meditating on past offenses—it requires learning to forgive instead of bearing a grudge.
I am still a work in progress—we all are. But even as I make strides towards arguing in a healthy fashion, I notice I am more willing to raise problems, issues, and concerns without fear that it will lead to fighting or a fallout. It has helped me build more emotionally stable and nourishing relationships where arguments, instead of being a driving force for me to give up, have actually proved to build up and edify.