THE BLOG

How to Be Better at Rowing

10/12/2014 12:45 GMT | Updated 09/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Most couples have rows. Even therapists who know a lot about relationship dynamics row with their partners (yes that includes me!) But if you feel you're always rowing, you spend a lot of time feeling resentful, or you never really make up following a row, then here are few ideas that might help you.

Don't make it about You...

When we row, a common pitfall is to start sentences with "You". For example, if your partner isn't pulling their weight with the household chores you might shout: "You never do what I want," "You're so selfish," "You're lazy" or "You don't care about me". The recipient of your criticisms will likely be hurt that you feel they don't care. They will then try and defend themselves - and then lump in some of your relationship crimes for good measure. The argument then becomes less about the original problem and more of a power struggle where you're both trying to one-up each other.

...Say "I"

Instead, use simple sentences to convey what you think, feel and want, starting with "I". So you might say: "I've so much to do in my day already, I can't do everything," " I feel like you take me for granted," or "I'm hurt that you don't seem to care about the house, too." This way the comments are less likely to get personal: you are being more assertive and you aren't putting words into their mouth. Then give them space to do the same.

Listen with empathy

One of the hardest things for us to do when we're angry is to really listen and understand what the other person has to say. Instead we interrupt or think about what we want to say next. But most people aren't trying to be unkind on purpose; they may have a different but still valid way of looking at things. To increase mutual understanding, it can help if you agree to paraphrase each others' statements. For example, you may be upset because your partner won't stop smoking. If they tell you how smoking relaxes them you might say, "I understand you like smoking. It is time to yourself and it relaxes you". While they might paraphrase your concerns: "I appreciate you care about my health. Your dad died of cancer and I know you are only looking out for me." Do this with all your thoughts on the subject and then you can each have your say about the other's point of view. While the two of you have yet to find a solution, you've both managed to get your points across and break the cycle of your arguments.

Watch out for passive aggression

What makes Hannibal Lecter so menacing? I mean, aside from the cannibalism thing. Yes, it's that, while he was caged, he was so bloody calm. Because calmness can be a whole lot more evocative than baddies who get angry - imagine how much Lecter could wind up the Hulk! Passive aggressive people communicate their aggression in an indirect way. Common phrases include: "I'm calm, you're the one who's getting upset," "Someone's got PMT, or "Whatever, it doesn't matter." You can still be unreasonable patronising or insensitive when you're not shouting.

Stop being a martyr

It can be so easy, when faced with a list of misdemeanours, to say: "Yes you're right. I'm an arsehole. I never do anything right." This is usually either another version of being passive aggressive or you're feeling overwhelmed and feel you can't do anything right. While throwing in the towel may lead to an easy life in the short term, it ends any chance for you to put your case or to explain yourself. This will likely lead to more resentment of your partner and more rows. And if you do actually feel they have a point, you can apologise and make amends. But it doesn't mean that everything that you do is bad - you must do something right, otherwise they wouldn't be with you!

Offer a solution

When we row we often want to hurt the other person or have them understand how hurt we are. But just pointing out someone's shortcomings doesn't always lead to results. Imagine if, at work, your boss called you in to reprimand you for not doing a good job. However, he didn't tell you where you were going wrong or how to improve. You would return to your desk feeling bad but not knowing what to do. This is unlikely to resolve the problem. It's the same with relationship rows. We often think our partner will instinctively know what we want them to do, but they aren't mind-readers. If, for example, you want someone to not ignore you when you're at a party, rather than getting upset because you feel neglected, you might tell them that you want them to smile at you every now or to bring you into a conversation if you're not engaged. Give them a chance to consider this and offer their own thoughts.

Don't forget to make up

When we're angry and we row we can often get a lot off our chests that we were unable to broach during peaceful times. Sometimes we get personal, often emotions run high and there may be a fear or threat that one or both of you is going to leave. When we're feeling calmer, it can help to readdress some of these things and to apologise for anything you've said that might have been exaggerated, cutting or bogus. Even if you feel like you had a good point, it may be that you expressed it in a defensive or difficult way. Taking the time to find argument closure and to effectively make up can help reduce on-going vendettas and bring you closer. And make-up sex can certainly be worth fighting for!