Eliminate Toxic Arguments from Your Relationship

If you want to remove the toxic parts of your relationship, being able to argue 'safely' is almost a requirement for a happy one. So one goal everyone should have is removing toxic arguments from their life. Of course, you will still disagree, rile each other up and generally bug each other, but the skills that are needed to be developed, help keep everything reined in before it gets too nasty. Read this wiki to learn how.


  1. Learn the three Cs. Know the difference between complaining, criticism and contempt.
    • Complaining is when you address an issue or an action clearly and precisely without being personal.
      1. We need to be able to complain; there are obviously issues that need to be sorted out and we need to be able to address them. No one wants to get landed with the dishes all the time. However there’s no place in a thriving relationship for criticism or contempt. They need to be banned.
      2. Make an agreement with your partner right now to eliminate criticism and contempt from your communication. No ifs, buts or maybes, pay attention, be disciplined and just don't do it. Be disciplined when you complain, don't slip in a criticism or a contemptuous remark. This is often not easy in the heat of battle but if you pay attention to your words you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
      3. If you do slip up then a quick apology is required. Also make a note to yourself to improve. You may have to call each other on it until it becomes habit but you’ll get immediate results. The horror of the punch and counter punch is eliminated.
      4. Another point to catch yourself on is when you try to justify your contemptuous statement. For example, if you have called me stupid and I pull you up on it; don't spend the next five minutes explaining that I actually was thick. I’m dum on a regular basis however, there are nicer ways to get me back to the land of the intelligent.
      • Example: ‘You said you would do the dishes and you haven't.’
    • Criticism is personal and often has a global statement such as ‘always’ or ‘never’.
      • Example: ‘You said you would do the dishes. You never keep your word.’
    • Contempt adds an insult.
      • Example: ‘You said you would do the dishes. You really are a low life.’
  2. Keep it to one subject per argument. Stick to the subject you started with. For example, if you start off arguing about the dishes then this argument is about the dishes, and the dishes only. Argue about any other issues later, and one at a time.
  3. Pick your moment. Timing is everything. If your partner is already struggling to cope with a hard day, then delay until they are settled; the dishes can wait. Value your relationship higher than a single issue. If there never seems to be the right time, then you have a bigger issue to address.
  4. Start as you would like it to end. Avoid the harsh start up. The way you start is very predictive of the way you’ll finish. If you leap in all guns blazing then it will probably end in an inferno, so be really careful about your first sentence. If you want it to end with respect and understanding then set the tone right up front.
  5. Some arguments will never get resolved. Not all issues are resolvable. It doesn't mean you can't argue about them, it just means that holding the false hope of resolution may force you to argue beyond what is useful.
    • Favorite subjects may be things like the budget or being on time. Yours may be different.
    • There’s another clump of unresolvable arguments, these are the arguments that we don't have the skill to resolve. You can park these discussions or seek help from mentors and professionals. There’s plenty of help available if you look for it.
  6. Poke out your tongue. The repair mechanism sometimes called a time-out or a circuit breaker is a way to ensure that things don't get out of hand.
    • It’s a signal or a comment that alerts both parties to back-off or slow down, that there’s danger ahead. It could be an edgy comment like, ‘Whoa this is getting out of hand’ or ‘We're off the topic’ or ‘That was unkind’ but my favorite is the poked out-tongue.
    • Just when things start to be a bit crazy, one of us will drop a sly little look and stick out the mouthy flesh. It's just too difficult to continue with any enjoyable venom. How can you possibly drop snide remarks on someone who is smart enough to realize how ridiculous you’re being.
    • It doesn't mean that the argument is not valid or should not be completed. It just means that now you’re going about it in a way that may end up damaging us, and us is more important than finishing the argument now.
    • Repair mechanisms are not just a way of ensuring that arguments don't get completely out of hand; they have a positive aspect too. They allow you to argue with confidence.
    • If you know for certain that you won't get into a whirlwind of recriminations and bitter memories at first mention of the budget, then it’s possible to start talking about it. We may not be able to reach resolution, but we can at least try.
    • Proceed until there’s a sense that it’s about to go pear shaped, out comes the tongue and we back off.
    • This is a technique that can help you feel safe in an argument or discussion. In the past there’s been a certain anxiety about entering into discussions that could get argumentative simply because there was no safety net. There was always the possibility that at any given moment a hot button could get fired up and off we'd go, into the boxing ring letting go of as many combinations as we could.
    • So negotiate a repair signal with your partner that you both agree to respect. When things start to go a bit crazy, use it and live to fight another day.
  7. Too much, too much. Another concept that’s very helpful to understand is flooding. This is when there’s too much stimulation and you’re feeling overwhelmed.
    • If the kids are shouting and there's noise from the kitchen, you can often find that you have to turn the radio off, or leave the room, in order to think. There’s just too much going on.
    • In an argument situation it may be that the feeling has got too high. In this situation the worst thing you can do is push the ‘flooded one’. They are in a state of not being able to respond, they need to be able to collect themselves. Anything more may feel like an attack. Even innocent remarks may lead you into very tricky territory.
  8. Do your best not to stonewall. The unskillful response to this is to stonewall.
    • It’s where you disengage from the argument completely, maybe by refusing to talk, staring at the TV or just storming out. This leaves one partner trying to engage while the other is refusing to even try.
    • The power struggle is intense and may be very frightening for the one who is still attempting to communicate.
    • Often the response is to go even harder at the stony-faced wall.
    • One person is feeling attacked to the point where they can not or will not respond and the other is trying to force a response. It’s like trying to pour more water into an engorged sponge; there’s no more room. No amount of force is going to achieve anything.
    • Stonewalling needs to be avoided. It will damage your sense of ‘us’ because one of you has withdrawn from that space.
  9. Watch your mouth and show some respect. Sounds like something an old man might growl at you, but when you break it all down this is what we’re left with. If you apply some discipline to your words and actions then a fiery exchange does not need to become explosive. It can be emotional and truthful and daring, without being damaging or hurtful. You can say what needs to be said, express disappointment and discuss edgy topics without having to defend yourself because you’ll not be under attack. There's nothing complex here, just some discipline when under fire.

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  • Finish the Dishes, Not Your Relationship

Sources and Citations

  • Extracted from Spice up your Marriage; In search of fun, commitment and passion by Stephen Simes