A counsellor’s guide to surviving your first argument
The first argument is something of a relationship milestone. But how can you survive it and come out stronger? Relate relationship counsellor Barbara Bloomfield shares her expertise
When we fall for someone and want to develop a long-lasting relationship with them, usually the last thing we want is for difference and discord to start creeping in.
Many of us want to find a ‘soul mate’ – someone who understands, accepts and loves us for who we truly are.
Having a big first argument with a new partner can feel like a cold shower that drenches your hopes and dreams for the relationship.
Accepting your emotions
But why is this? Is it realistic to never fight with a new partner? What is it about arguing that makes it so unsettling?
It’s probably fair to say that a lot of us are actually quite afraid of expressing emotions like anger or sadness. Many of us are brought up to feel ashamed of them – to think that they’re ‘ugly’ feelings that make us look ugly ourselves.
Conflict in a relationship – especially in a new one- can also be very difficult to handle. It can feel really destructive, and most of all, you might worry it will lead to a break-up.
The truth is; differences between people are pretty much inevitable.
And what’s more: wouldn’t it be boring to simply agree with your partner about everything all the time? What on earth would you talk about?
What’s important isn’t that you never argue with your partner, but that you’re able to resolve disagreements in a way that’s productive.
Having productive arguments
So what makes a ‘productive argument’? What are the ‘rules for rows’?
Firstly, use ‘I’ messages. An ‘I’ message means talking about things in terms of how you feel, without assuming any kind of motivation or agenda on the part of your partner. That might mean, instead of saying, ‘You always get really moody in the evenings,’ saying something like ‘When you don’t talk to me, I feel shut out’.
Secondly, don’t let the first argument go interstellar. Don’t turn a difference of opinion into a crisis. Small criticisms about who does the washing up often carry bigger but unspoken criticisms about the relationship as a whole. Talk about one issue at a time – otherwise things can end up spinning out of control.
One good tip for keep cool during a row is literally to take a step backwards. This might sound strange, but sometimes creating a physical distance can give you a better perspective on things. You can also decide to take two big breaths and let them out slowly, or disarm the other person by offering to make a cup of coffee.
But perhaps the most important and difficult thing of all to do is to listen to what your partner is saying and show them that you’ve heard them. This can be really hard because when you’re arguing with someone, sometimes all you care about is that they understand how you feel and what you’re trying to say.
One of the simplest ways you can show your partner that you’re listening is by repeating what they’re saying back to them. This might sound silly, but it can make a big difference. This could be as simple as saying something like, ‘If I’ve understood properly, your view is that…’
So when you have that inevitable first argument, don’t panic. People with strong opinions are attractive and full of life, especially when it’s paired with the ability to listen to others.
Get more advice from Relate about how to handle arguments in your relationship
Barbara Bloomfield started training as a Relate counsellor in 1994 and is now Counselling Supervisor at Relate Cymru and a national spokesperson for Relate. She is the author of several books including the world’s first graphic novel about couple counselling, Couple Therapy: Dramas of Love and Sex. Barbara works privately with individuals, couples and families and is an expert in finding love (all ages), social anxiety, older relationships, and couples work.
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