How to argue with people you love
Conflict can be good for your relationships – if you do it right, says an educational psychologist.
Stay focused and in the present: When you focus on the present situation and don’t drag in past hurts, you can recognise present realities. Dragging the ‘old cows’ into present arguments helps you stay stuck in the past. Keep your language in the present and focus on what the present action is that has caused your upset.

Choose your arguments: Because arguments require effort and energy, you need to consider what is worth arguing about and what is not. Sometimes letting go of your own upset affords you the insight to see that it wasn’t worth fighting over it in the first place.

Recognise when your needs aren’t met: Needs create a serious source of stress if ignored. Sometimes we become reactive to this stress when we perceive that our needs aren’t being met. We need to verbalise our needs to our partner or child, in order for them to not only know what our needs are but also how to meet them. Expressing our needs clearly and respectfully to the others in our lives reduces not only the stress but also the reactivity.

Forgive if you can: It is much easier to remain compassionate and understanding when you don’t feel threatened and can listen with understanding. Recognising that it is not always a personal attack on you, but sometimes just a difference of opinion or perception can go a long way to avoid full-on war. When we forgive what we perceive to be punishment or personal attacks, it releases us from the urge to punish. Letting it go means that you are not holding on to past issues which just further depletes and drains your energy reserves.

End conflicts that can’t be resolved: Agree to disagree. No two people can retain the same needs, opinions and expectations. It also takes two people to keep the argument going, and every story has more than just one side. If you focus on validating the other’s perception, whether you agree or not, and understand the other’s response, you can allow yourself to disengage and avoid becoming emotionally drained when there is no obvious solution to your conflict.

Remain as relaxed and grounded as you can during conflict situations: Stay centred and in control of yourself and you will not become emotionally overwhelmed and reactive. Stop – breathe – think – react.

Become comfortable with your emotions: When you fear intense emotions, you damage your ability to face and resolve differences.

Non-verbal language: Become more aware and understand your own and the other person’s non-verbal communications. This ensures that you will both hear the other’s communication fully and avoid misinterpretations.

When we learn to STOP – LISTEN – UNDERSTAND and then RESPOND, we can allow our brain to move back into the logical and rational response that we need for conflict resolution and keep our emotions in check.

Conflict is the space in between relationships where we grow and stretch ourselves. Without it we become stagnant and inflexible.

This is an extract from a paper on Mindful conflict by educational psychologist Karin Bronkhorst of Bella Vida Centre.

Can you have a constructive argument with a family member?

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