Even if you’ve just started dating someone, disagreements can occur. So how can you keep them from ruining your day — and your budding romance? We know we should shrug it off, not take things personally and all that, but when our feelings are hurt or we feel judged, that’s not so easy to do... and it’s even harder when we’re dating someone new.
Why we try to avoid arguments when we’re just getting to know someone
“As singles, we want to appear to be as interesting, appealing and sophisticated as we hope our dates are themselves,” explains Kate Larsen, author of Progress Not Perfection: Your Journey Matters — and that image probably doesn’t involve getting into a spat. “Some may think difficult conversations mean conflict, so they try avoid conflict at all costs. That does not mean people are unwilling to have difficult conversations, just not ready, per se. Some of us have a hard time articulating our thoughts, feelings and reactions. Because we want to impress someone new, we may fear that truth or difficult topics may create a disconnect between us and this new person,” explains Larsen. But the truth is, even in the best relationships, there are times that tough conversations must be had… and in fact, having them productively can bring two people closer together.
Five steps for fighting fair with your date
How can you overcome this and have the constructive conversation necessary to resolve conflict? Follow these five steps:
1. Follow three ground rules for banishing blame from your discussion. “If couples agree to these three ground rules, there are very few issues they can’t dissect, examine and resolve,” says Dallas-based mediator and communication expert Anne French, author of The Gift of Words: Having the Right Words to Say at the Right Time. The rules: 1) No interrupting, 2) no negating ideas, and 3) no unbridled negativity and/or defensiveness.
2. Be patient while you get to know each other’s preferred communication styles and temperaments. “Recognize that time and testing the waters are important in building new relationships,” Larsen says. “Don’t rush into difficult conversations. Anticipate that you and this other person have different styles and temperaments, so each of you will most likely approach difficult conversations in different ways. Take it from a psychology major who married a finance major!”
3. Listen actively to the other person’s concerns before you respond. “I’m not talking about the passive kind of thing we do where we sit there nodding our heads,” French says. “I’m talking about actively listening to a partner without interrupting, and then taking notes to make sure you’ve heard and understood the most vital points of the problem.”
4. Be honest when setting mutual boundaries with your date. “Set boundaries about what you need, believe and/or want,” Larsen advises, “and allow the other person to do the same.”
5. Reserve judgment about how to best resolve the issue until you’ve heard each other out. “Be open-minded and receptive to various possibilities for resolving a problem,” French counsels. “Some of the best solutions initially come from the craziest-sounding ideas.”
Find a fresh perspective on what “winning” an argument means for your romance
When arguments do occur (and they will), it all really comes down to intention. If you want to punish the other person, scare him or her, or ‘be right,’ then all the tips in the world aren’t going to net a constructive outcome. Why? “Because you’d rather be right than get what you really want,” explains Phil Holcomb, Seattle-based personal growth coach and Extraordinary Learning program co-founder. “Being right isn’t worth much after the argument is over, though, is it?” Especially if you’ve pushed your new love away from you — and for no good reason!
We’re often better served by focusing on what we actually want over the long-term, not just in the heat of the moment. Homing in on that intent guides the discussion to a more beneficial result because you’re clear about your goal and your date is more likely to listen. “It’s really easy to make arguments about the other person,” Holcomb says. “It’s really easy to want everyone to agree with everything you think. But if you want a good, lasting relationship, you have to work at being a good, lasting partner” (who perhaps isn’t always right).
How do you do that? “Focus on the big things — your values and beliefs — rather than the small things, like who’s paying the tab or what one of you did (or didn’t do) on your date,” he says. “If your relationship is more important than ‘being right,’ let go of the other stuff.” And if it’s not, then let go of the other person instead.