‘How do we stop having these explosive arguments?’

‘I don’t like the fights’ (Picture: Neil Webb/Metro.co.uk)

Welcome back to The Sex Column, our weekly series that helps out people navigating the world of love, dating, and relationships.

Last time around, the experts advised someone caught between their partner and their travel plans.

This Thursday, we’ve got a common problem.

Our dater has been in a relationship with their partner for years, and, like so many long-term relationships, this is one that features a lot of arguments.

How can this couple learn to navigate their conflicts in a healthier way?

The problem:

‘My partner and I have been together for a long time and although we have taken time apart over the years, we’re best friends and can’t imagine not being together.

We used to argue a lot and in our efforts to not argue, I’ve noticed that we’re suppressing how we feel and eventually have a big fight.

‘I find him hard to talk to because he’s negative and stubborn, and he says I’m fiery, which I agree with.

‘This isn’t a relationship life-or-death situation but I don’t like the fights and would like us to talk about issues calmly as they arise.‘

What the experts say…

Arguments are unpleasant but not having them is worse.

‘Silence is toxic and a disagreement allows you to bring up the deep issues, just like a sea storm brings up the deep, cold water,’ says James McConnachie. ‘It causes a bit of damage but, in the longer term, the disturbance provides nutrients for the whole coastal ecosystem.’

The key is to learn to limit outright damage and that means recognising when you’re only saying something to wound.

‘Communicate well and the relationship goes well,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin. ‘By communication, I mean the whole gamut from verbal to non-verbal communication, which includes tone of voice, facial expressions and body postures.’

Your current tactic isn’t working.

‘You are trying to be different people together — you less fiery, he less stubborn — but rather than making things easier, it is creating resentment and unease,’ Rudkin adds.

Often we choose partners because they complement us in some way.

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‘Perhaps your fire and his caution created a balance that was once good for you both,’ says Rupert Smith. ‘Sometimes we choose people because they repeat dynamics from our families and not always healthy ones.’

Now you’re older, these contrasts are no longer working so instead of attempting to suppress these aspects, get to know them intimately. You could also consider finding a counsellor.

‘They will shine a mirror on your relationship and offer tailored strategies,’ says McConnachie. ‘You could even try filming an argument and watching it back.’

What’s clear is you have something that’s sustained a long relationship.

‘It could keep you going for decades if you can now learn to be open with each other,’ says Smith.

The experts

Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor

James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)

Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychology

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