If you’re in a relationship you’re bound to disagree with your partner from time to time. Should you load the dishwasher from front to back or back to front? Should the toilet paper be hung over or under? Should you save your money or take that expensive vacation?
Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert, author and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says healthy relationships hinge on a couple’s ability to know which issues are worth fighting over and which ones are worth letting go.
She says knowing how to pick your battles is a skill worth mastering and offers these 15 pointers:
1. Only fight about issues that are truly important. Evaluate the consequences of an argument. Consider a few simple questions: “Is this worth addressing?” And, “Will I care about this tomorrow?” Don’t argue for the sake of arguing.
2. Make a plan. Take a moment to calm down and think through the problem. Don’t attack your partner. Convey your frustration and support your logical argument with facts and examples.
3. Pause for the cause. Review your motivation. Ask yourself, Is this really the problem or is something else bothering me? If you’re stressed about work or finances, you may be more irritable than usual.
4. Don’t react immediately. Walk away from the situation for a few minutes. Calm down and consider what an argument will accomplish. If you choose to fight every battle, you’ll be seen as stubborn or argumentative.
5. Choose the right time. Fighting with your spouse or partner in public will rarely have a positive outcome. Find a quiet place to vent your frustrations in private so you can have an honest conversation without outside pressure.
6. Talk; don’t yell. Both parties will likely become defensive if the fight becomes overly emotional. Practice effective listening. Let your partner know his or her view is valued, even if you don’t completely agree.
7. Agree to disagree. Sometimes compromise seems impossible. Stay positive and defuse the situation with humor, whenever possible.
8. Communicate. Don’t assume your partner knows what you’re feeling. Be specific about what upsets you. Meet each other halfway and try to find a compromise.
9. Solve the problem together. View your partner as your teammate, not your enemy. When you view the situation through that lens, you change the dynamic of the argument.
10. Look in the mirror. Never minimize or cover up your mistakes. Most times, both parties contribute to the problem. Take responsibility for your part, acknowledge your errors and work toward a compromise.
11. Stay calm. Have a respectful conversation. If the situation becomes too tense, take a break. It’s better to step away than it is to let the argument escalate.
12. Preempt the problem. A little prevention goes a long way. Address the situation as soon as you see an issue arise. Be proactive in your approach. Some arguments are simply a difference in perspective.
13. Discuss your issue in person. Disagreements are best addressed face-to-face. Body language and facial expressions help to convey your meaning. Emails and phone conversations can be misinterpreted and may extend the argument unnecessarily.
14. Choose your words carefully. Listen attentively and speak respectfully. Watch what you say and how you say it. Once your words leave your mouth, you can never take them back.
15. Seek help when necessary. Some issues seem to large to solve. When you can’t reach an agreement and you want to keep your relationship intact, seek professional advice. Sometimes a counselor or mediator can shed light on the situation and keep your love alive.