When things go south in your relationship and you start arguing, it can easily cascade downhill and feel like all is lost. There is nothing as painful as the disappointment and upset we feel when our love relationship collapses into nothing but accusations, blame, angry attacks and coldness. It is the worst feeling. But I have great news! There is a way to fight fairly so that both you and your partner can actually come together and both win! In fact fighting fairly in this way is good for a couple. Couples that don’t fight are the ones that counselors worry most about. Married couples who do not fight have double the divorce rate of those who do. Loving couples do air their differences. But they know how to fight fairly so that they can come back together, even closer than before (and the make-up sex is amazing!). Here are six tips to help you get there in your couple:
1. Avoid Out-of-Control Anger. Anger and criticism lead to “flooding,” a stress explosion in which the heart beats more rapidly, blood pressure soars and adrenaline surges. The whole body tenses up as fear, confusion and then more anger take over. Reason goes out the window. In experimental studies of conflict, even when couples are asked to calm down, men simply aren’t able to chill out while women can. Keep in mind that your real foe is not your partner but this physiological stress reaction! If anger swirls out of control use breathing, time out, or humor to defuse the situation.
2. Give Space as Needed. If your partner is the one who tends to get flooded with anger, practice giving him or her space in which to calm down. Not in a cold rejecting way, but saying something like, let’s take a few minutes to have a breather so we can talk this through when we’re both clearer.
3. Use Positive Shaping Talk. To avoid the angry stress reaction, it’s best to start a potentially charged conversation in a soft, sweet, or affectionate way with what I call Positive Shaping Talk. Be warm and clear about what you really want or need from your partner. Not about what they are doing wrong. So instead of, “You never pay attention to me!!!” try saying, “Honey, I love it when you listen to me and it would be so great for me to be able to talk for five minutes while you just listen.”
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4. Repeat Your Partner’s Complaint. Often if your partner feels heard and understood, like their opinion matters, they can often let go of the issue, back down and reenter into an intimate connection. Try repeating exactly what they are saying back to them. Start by saying, “You feel.” This can be very disarming!!! So you suddenly might say to your partner, “You feel like I don’t appreciate how important sports are too you.” This can stop the whole escalation to mutually assured destruction.
5. Ask yourself, which is more important: to be right or to be close? In loving couples, who is right and who is wrong is irrelevant. Does it really matter that you win this argument or would you rather be having make-up sex or at least be lying in each other’s arms right now?
6. Use the “Take Two” technique. Make an agreement that either one of you can call out “Take Two” when a fight erupts and you can start your “scene” all over again, but from a loving place. My husband and I use this technique regularly to interrupt any of our “stupid fights.”and it is very powerful! In my clinical experience this technique alone has saved many relationships from dissolving.
Healthy couples fight, but their fighting is less out of control and ends on a sweet note that carries them back to laughter, closeness and intimacy. Learn how to fight fairly with your partner and come out of your anger. Soon you will be having a real dialogue:
- In the midst of a disagreement, take a break, breathe, soothe or calm yourself.
- Try on the other person’s point of view.
- Ask yourself honestly, do you need to back down or make an apology to your partner?
- When you are fighting, which is more important, being right, or being close?
- And if your partner gets flooded with anger, practice using humor, giving them space or soothing them in some way so that they can calm down.
It will be well worth it for the sake of your own happiness and theirs.