Arguments can take it out of you – and for good reason. Neurologically, research shows disagreements send the human body into fight or flight mode. The stress either makes a person seethe with anger, which could lead to them saying hurtful, unfair things. Or, more commonly, they might sweep the issue under the rug and avoid the difficult conversation altogether.
Unsurprisingly, neither is effective for reaching a resolution. Individuals with high emotional intelligence (EQ) know that. In fact, one study found that couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who practice avoidance.
The thing is, when you swallow your problems or fly off the handle, you miss the opportunity to get to the heart of the issue at hand. Without calmly vocalizing your emotions and seeking to understand your partner's perspective, you stunt the potential for progress in the relationship and create a rift.
Luckily, there's a fix. It comes down to developing the ability to have disagreements with emotional intelligence. So, here are seven strategies to help you and your partner work through conflict with EQ and grace.
Keep this golden ratio in mind
Through years of research, the Gottman Institute has discovered a helpful mathematical equation for arguing well: the ratio of positive to negative interactions during a disagreement needs to be five to one.
Holding your partner's hand, saying "I hear you," and active listening are all examples of positive interactions while taking a hurtful jibe, stonewalling and raising your voice would all be considered negative.
Next time you and your partner disagree, think about the overall dynamics of the conversation. Are you mainly affirming and loving to each other, or is the dialogue awash with negativity? If it's the latter, try introducing more positive interactions into the conversation.
When your partner has upset you, it can be all too easy to slip into the mindset of 'me vs you,' but this immediately creates a hostile environment, where one party thinks they are right and the other one is wrong.
Naturally, this kind of approach doesn't bode well for conflict resolution. The accused partner will likely get defensive, and the other will feel frustrated that they aren't being listened to or getting the 'sorry' they were seeking.
The trick is to reframe your mindset around disagreements. High EQ individuals avoid the 'me vs you' mindset because they have high levels of other awareness. They know that attacking their partner or accusing them of wrongdoing won't help to solve things.
Instead, they take an 'us vs the problem' attitude, viewing themselves and their partner as one team, tackling a problem together. This outlook is highly solutions-focused and is excellent at diffusing tension. When you're conscious of how your words will sound to your partner, you can then approach the disagreement more thoughtfully and collaboratively.
Cultivate empathy and curiosity
Emotionally intelligent people are adept at empathy: understanding another person's perspective while reserving judgment. When they need to talk through a disagreement, they go into the conversation free of assumptions and are aware that they need to understand their partner's point of view too.
To do this, they practice active listening and curiosity, asking thoughtful questions to build a more detailed, balanced picture of the issue at hand.
Even as tricky feelings arise during the conversation, they regulate their emotions, resisting the urge to interrupt or let their mind wander to potential rebuttals. Instead, they genuinely listen to the other person and seek to understand.
Know your needs
So far, we've focused on the EQ traits of other awareness and empathy. But another vital aspect of healthy arguing is self-awareness: understanding your wants and needs, and knowing how to communicate them directly and honestly.
Often, low EQ couples will use passive-aggressive communication patterns to demonstrate their anger, such as giving out backhanded problems or withholding affection, because they don't know how to act assertively.
The good news is that anyone can improve their communication skills and become more assertive. A simple way to start is by using "I-feel statements" and avoiding "You-statements." The latter, like "You're always working late, and you never have time for me," is full of blame for the other person. On the other hand, statements like "I feel lonely when we don't spend time together" encourage your partner to see your perspective and build connection.
Practice unconditional positive regard
Unconditional positive regard is a concept popularized by psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950s. It's the idea that one should view every person with compassion and kindness, knowing they are flawed and complicated but, ultimately, trying their best.
High EQ individuals see their partner in their wholeness. When upset, they don't let their emotions blur their vision. Instead, they remember that they love their partner and choose to see the humanity and goodness in them.
By assuming your partner is trying their best and doesn't want to hurt you, you can enter the disagreement with a softer, more open mind. In turn, you're less likely to feel stressed or worked up, meaning you'll be able to communicate and listen more effectively.
Learn to compromise
While some issues need to be talked out, Gottman Institute research shows that a huge percentage of disagreements among couples can't be resolved. These issues tend to stem from different preferences, values and expectations.
However, rather than being something to worry about or fight about over and over, high EQ individuals accept that they and their partner are two separate people with plenty of similarities and differences – and they know that, for some differences, it's ok to agree to disagree.
Similarly, if you and your partner keep having an argument with a recurring theme, it might be time for some joint reflection. Is this issue a deal-breaker? Is there a compromise you can reach? If not, can you accept each other just as you are?
Keep learning about each other
As people, we are learning, growing and changing all the time. The better you and your partner know each other – your love styles, personality types and emotional intelligence scores – the better equipped you'll be to have disagreements that feel safe, solutions-focused and productive.
Curious to learn more about yourself and your partner? Try our Emotional Intelligence Test today.