Conflict happens. Even in the healthiest relationship at some point it’s inevitable that one or both of you will do something to trigger a fight. So how should you handle the hot water when the kettle boils over? Here are four “Dos and four “Don’ts that will help you to avoid being scalded by the heat of anger and recrimination.
- apologize, even if you’re right
- use constructive criticism
- take a timeout
- keep the big picture in mind
- think your partner is a mind reader
- be defensive
- be afraid to say “no”
- hold a grudge
This is the quickest, simplest, and most effective step you can take to extinguish the flames of an argument with your partner (or anyone else). Yet for most of us apologizing is difficult, especially when you think you’re right (and isn’t that almost all the time?). To apologize you have to set aside your pride. You may have to admit that you were unreasonable, or hurt your partner’s feelings. You might even have to give in or compromise. But an apology is the easiest and most reliable way to end a dispute and cool hot feelings. An apology also builds the trust that is the foundation of every good relationship. So apologize, apologize, apologize. Even if you’re right. And be quick about it – before the flame of fury burns down all the trees in the forest.
One of the common reasons we fight is to impose our own values on someone else, and many of us believe that the best way to “correct” unwanted behavior from someone else, especially our partner or our children, is to criticize them. But most people, especially our partners and children, do not respond well to criticism. Do you? Why not use a more positive approach. Rather than criticize your partner, praise them when they do it right. Thank them. Suggest solutions instead of complaining about transgressions. This approach is much more likely to improve both their behavior and your relationship.
Often you may realize that the dispute is not going to be easily resolved. When emotions run high the argument spins in circles. Consider taking a break—from the conflict and from each other. Take the time you need to reflect and cool down. When you return to the field of battle you may be better able to express yourself without detonating further emotional minefields.
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture during an emotional conflict. Adjust your perspective and remember that a relationship is like a movie, not a snapshot. It’s a series of events and memories which ripen over time. And, as in a movie, a high point often will follow the low. Keep this in mind when the flames of hostility flare. Remember this is just one of many moments that encompass a relationship, and that most of the moments are pleasant.
Many disputes are simply the result of a miscommunication, or non-communication. Is your partner a mind reader? Of course not, and neither are you. If you’re upset, say so. If you want something, ask for it. And expect your partner to do the same. Open interaction will help you and your partner avoid needless tension, and either eliminate disputes or help to resolve them more quickly.
While having a strong defense is helpful on the battlefield, being defensive in your relationships will keep your partner at a distance. Being defensive usually triggers defensiveness in your partner. Before you blink you’re just like the Hatfields and McCoys, involved in a struggle to the death. When your partner is upset with you, train yourself to listen, to discover what they want. This approach can instantly diffuse a difficult situation.
I’m usually positive, so I tend to err on the side of saying “yes” rather than “no.” In many cases this is an excellent strategy because it opens me up to new ideas, suggestions, and possibilities. But while this “yes” outlook is helpful, it can also lead to a problem if you don’t say “no” when you need to. There are times when you just can’t agree to what your partner asks. I have a bad back and say “no” whenever I’m asked to lift anything heavy. When necessary you should feel confident in speaking your mind, and your partner should respect you for being clear and direct.
We all know this feeling. When your partner says or does something that inflames you, it’s always tempting to cling to your anger. But holding a grudge will make you tense, keep you apart, and may fuel a later emotional explosion. It won’t help to solve the problem. So let go of your grudges, release them and move on. You and your partner will both be happier.
Conflicts are a normal part of any relationship. A clash of views is not a reason to worry. The key is to seek to resolve those arguments in a way that builds trust rather than destroys it. These eight tips will help you to more smoothly navigate the challenges both you and your partner will sometimes face on the journey from me to us.