A few years ago, when I was freshly dating my now-husband, I came across an article where a blogger wrote about something interesting that her husband does something interesting.
If she and him are disagreeing, he says, “I love you,” in the middle of the argument to diffuse it. “In the middle of a fight, say, ‘I love you you’re the most important person in the world to me,’ even if at that moment, those words are the hardest ones to choke out because you’re so mad,” she wrote.
I couldn’t fathom it then, and I can’t fathom it now. The last thing on my mind during a heated discussion is adoration, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can be done to soften the situation.
Diffuse the Momentum of Arguments
The difficult thing is that arguments often gain momentum. You start out having a reasonable, casual discussion, and then suddenly you’re nit-picking each other, screaming about every disagreement you’ve ever had, or stuck in a horrific loop over the semantics of something one of you said six and a half months ago.
It can feel totally out of control and as if there’s no way out. The key during those times is to take control of your actions.
Suggestions for De-Escalating Arguments
If you control your actions and emotions, your partner will be more likely to follow suit. To prevent a spat from doing permanent damage, try the following tips.
1. Truly listen
More often than not, especially in our age of instant, constant communication, we listen simply to respond. We are formulating our thoughts and constructing our rebuttals before the other person is able to complete their sentence. We hear buzzwords that we seize upon and are reactionary in our responses.
A better way is to practice active listening. Eliminate as much distraction as possible. Look the other person who is speaking in the eye. Do not assume motive on their behalf.
2. Have an open mind
Give the other person the chance to put their case forward and be open to having your opinion changed. Perhaps there’s no winner in the argument — it could be that both of you are partially right.
3. Don’t raise your voice
The second you raise your voice you become the weakest link in the argument and the other person takes control. Your point is no more right shouted through a megaphone than it is whispered.
All yelling will do is suggest you are being irrational and emotional.
4. Stick to the point
If you want to get resolution, stick to the point. You start to lose your partner and the argument when you say, “And another thing is…”
There’s a reason why the most common advice when you’re getting heated is to take a deep breath and count to 10. It’s because it gives you a few seconds to collect yourself and think more clearly, giving you time to ensure you’re being a good listener and giving all of yourself to the conversation.
Simply making the effort to become calm can be an incredibly powerful tool, as it prevents us from saying anything that we don’t really mean or anything that we will regret later on.
When is it Time for Couples Therapy?
For many couples, the idea of bringing a third party into their relationship is scary — or just plain out of the question. But it’s best to seek therapy long before you think you “need” to.
Most issues within a partnership start small, then grow in size when they don’t get resolved. This is where therapy can help, by providing tools and techniques to improve conflict resolution. Getting in touch with a therapist is the best way to start the process, but asking yourself these questions could help decide if professional help is worth pursuing:
- Has trust been broken?
- Are arguments becoming more frequent?
- Is communication poor?
- Can you tell something is wrong but unsure what?
- Can you not resolve the conflict alone?
- Has emotional/sexual intimacy changed/diminished?
- Are there bad habits in the relationship that aren’t being broken?
All relationships are difficult in some form or another. There will be disagreement, conflict, and hurt even in the best of times. Relationship counseling can help individuals and couples grow and heal.
Like all types of therapy, the lessons learned and behaviors changed will continue to serve each person for much longer than the therapy itself.