Whether it’s the tone in her voice or the look in his eye, we all know when our partner is ready for a fight. Sometimes arguments arise out of silly misunderstandings and are quick to blow over. But other conflicts are rooted in much more serious issues — and can cause much more difficult problems.
Yet even the most serious conflicts can be weathered with love and attention. Here are our tips for finishing a fight — but keeping your relationship.
No matter how much you hate conflict, you should resist the urge to “fast-forward” through an argument. However unpleasant, fights are the most basic way we expose our relationship issues. By focusing only on ending a fight, you may be glossing over problems that need attention.
Instead of just looking for a way to end the argument, pay attention to what your partner is saying. Is she really angry you left your dirty clothes on the floor — or is she actually angry that you don’t contribute household chores? Is he upset that you spent the afternoon shopping — or is he worried about paying the bills? Without taking the time to investigate the real source of conflict, you may find yourself having the same fights over and over again, with no resolution.
Paying attention goes beyond what you’re saying — you also have to listen to how you’re saying it. Without even realizing it, you can undermine the entire discussion by expressing yourself carelessly. Focus on your feelings, without making assumptions about your partner. Instead of attacking, frame your thoughts with an “I” statement like “I feel ____, when you ____”
Instead of “How many times do I have to tell you to pick up your #*?! laundry!” try saying something like, “I feel frustrated and unappreciated when you leave your dirty clothes on the floor.”
Instead of saying “You’re bleeding us dry with your constant shoe shopping!” consider saying, “I feel scared that we won’t have enough money to pay our bills this month when you spend the afternoon shopping.”
Talking this way may not end the fight, but it will more effectively communicate the real problem — and hopefully make the argument a lot more productive.
Of course, sometimes despite your best efforts, you just can’t let go of your emotions for long enough to make the argument constructive. If you find yourself talking in circles, descending into personal attacks or bringing up bad history, it’s time to end the fight.
Tell your partner that you want to table the discussion until you’ve both had time to cool off and process your thoughts and feelings. By allowing that time and space, you can separate the causes of the problem from the heated emotions that surround it.
Set a time and place to reconvene when you know you’ll be calmer — but don’t put it off indefinitely. Continually postponing an important (but unpleasant) discussion will only make things worse. Like a small splinter that festers over time, a minor conflict can turn into a huge confrontation. So when you need to reschedule an argument, be sure to honor the appointment.
With a little effort and patience, you can turn a dreaded fight into a real learning experience that will help you understand — and love — each other better. Always remember you’re not fighting against each other — you’re fighting for your relationship.
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