You probably know how you typically feel during an argument, or certain things you're likely to say, but do you know where you fall on the spectrum of argument styles? Probably not—and that's okay!—but it's not a bad idea to understand how you argue. "Since we are social beings who are constantly in and out of all sorts of relationships, conflict is inevitable, but it's how we approach those conflicts, whether we're conscious of it or not, that can help us strengthen our relationships," explains Dinorah Nieves, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist, personal development coach, and consultant for OWN's Iyanla Fix My Life.
Everyone has an argument style, or manner in which we argue and respond to conflict. Often, explains Paulette Sherman, relationship expert and author of Dating from the Inside Out, this style is something adopted during childhood and is how you protect yourself when you're in fight or flight mode. "Sometimes it is what was modeled to us by our parents or even between our parents during a conflict," she adds. Knowing which type of argument style you possess and how you argue can help you establish a healthier relationship with your partner. Here, experts explain the most basic argument styles and outline how best to argue based on which category you (or your partner!) fall into.
If your first inclination in an argument is to start pointing fingers and listing out reasons why the other person is wrong, your argument style is to attack. "'You always' and 'you never' are popular sentence beginnings, followed by whatever fault the other person may find in you," says Claudia Six, Ph.D., a relationship coach and author. The trouble with this approach, Dr. Six explains, is that it's just not helpful. "You may get some things off your chest, but all you're doing is giving the other person information about yourself—they're not going to hear you as giving them information about them and how it's a problem," she says. "A more effective approach would be to drop into your feelings and express those, preferably with some degree of vulnerability." No one can argue against how you're feeling, but they can argue against an attack you make about their character or actions.
When one partner in a relationship is the attacker, the other is usually the defender—the person in response to a perceived attack. "If you feel rejected, made wrong, criticized, and like you need to defend, then defending is your argument style," says Dr. Six. The trouble is that this argument style rarely gets you anywhere—it only creates more drama. "Just by engaging in defending you've created a dynamic where you put yourself one step down from the other person," she says. "Remember that unless you're in a court of law, you never need to defend yourself."
Have you ever been in an argument where the person you're arguing with wants to take a break or pause, but you keep persisting through? Yep, you're a pursuer. "Instead of taking a moment to cool down, the pursuer insists on discussing the issue, following the other person around, or calling incessantly, which will only serve to make the other person pull away," says Dr. Six. "You may think that talking about it and insisting will resolve the problem, but all it really does is give them pseudo contact in the form of an argument." A more productive strategy she recommends is to take some space to settle yourself down. "Walk around the block, take a bath, meditate—do something that calms and nurtures you."
If you tend to be guarded, uncommunicative, and protective during an argument, you're most likely a withdrawer. "This approach is favored by conflict avoidant people—you don't engage in the argument, but your behavior doesn't serve to resolve it either," says Dr. Six. "When you withdraw, you can't resolve." Instead of simply pulling away, allowing your significant other to interpret your silence, Dr. Nieves says you should remind your partner that he or she means a lot to you, but that you need an hour or two to work this out within yourself. "If you need space, take it," she adds. "But let them know that even though you're emotionally distant in the moment, you are still invested."