3 Rules to Make Your Arguments More Polite (and Productive)
In a relationship, arguments are inevitable. In fact, if you don't disagree with each other at least some of the time, you might be doing something wrong. But when it comes time to drop the gloves, there's definitely a right way and a wrong way to do it—or, at the very least, a way that has a chance at being productive verses a way that will be destructive.
Basically, when you get into an argument, or even when you just lightly disagree with each other, you should follow three rules. The first is, don't interrupt when the other person is speaking. I know I, for one, am really bad at this. I often anticipate what's coming and then try head it off at the pass in order to expedite my defense. But the problem is, by not letting my girlfriend get a word in edgewise, I'm implicitly saying that my side of the argument is more important than her's, and worse, I'm implying that I'm more important. Obviously both people in an argument believe they are right, but neither person's viewpoint is more valid, and proper respect should always be accorded.
The second rule is, avoid saying, “You always…" or “You never…" Maybe your partner has a habit of repeatedly doing something you don't like, but there's a better way to phrase it. “You always…" and “You never…" are too aggressive, not to mention too definitive and accusatory. Despite what you may be thinking in the heat of the moment, your partner is probably not a ruthless dictator, so “always" and “never" might be a bit hyperbolic. When you address these issues, after not interrupting of course, shoot for “I feel like you sometimes…" or something in that vein, and then explain why it bothers you. Basically, you're saying how it makes you feel rather than accusing them of a specific negative behavior. Much more constructive.
And the final rule is, make sure your body language says “I'm listening." Don't stare off into space while they're speaking, or pick at your nails, or fiddle with your phone, or whatever. All of those things will make your partner feel like you don't give a crap and are basically just killing time until the words stop coming out of their mouth. Again, it's about affording your partner the proper respect, and showing that, while you disagree, you still consider both them and their opinions to be valid. No one is better than the other, you just happen to be on two equal but opposite sides of a disagreement. So sit up, keep your body turned to them, your eyes on them (although not constantly–unceasing eye contact will make them think you're a serial killer), and just stay engaged. Even though you're disagreeing, you're still technically in a conversation. You're not an actor simply killing time until the other actor finishes delivering his or her line (side note: that also makes for really bad actors). So be present, be polite, don't interrupt, and have at it.