As much as we like to think of ourselves as a sophisticated species, we’re not immune to the occasional scream match with our partner. So how do you avoid an ice pickle for longer than you have to? There are several ways to speed up the process and beat a fight with your partner sooner rather than later.
says Nancy Dreyfus, a Pennsylvania-based psychiatrist and author of Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Like: Fixing a Relationship in a Blink. So when our opinion, your processes, or your separate thoughts go from common sense and something happens sideways, you end up defending your point of view. “It often upsets us, when we’re in a fight, that we simply want someone to enter our reality.”
And when do they not? Gina Sinarighi, PhD, a Portland-based relationship coach, and author of More Love, Less Killer: A Communication Book for Every Coupleand podcast host fainting. “Our brains and bodies are wired to connect, and those triggers of shame, rejection, and abandonment are sore points.”
Which is why, she says, when your partner uses a certain tone or makes a certain comment, he feels the same in your body as if a car was coming to you out of nowhere at 60 mph. And that fight or flight “Mayday!” The reaction rushes with a jolt.
And here you are. The fighting bell rang. Here’s how to get tactical – fast.
The fastest way to beat the fight with your partner
1. Spreading the flame
It’s also best to keep the burger off the flame when it burns, you can lower the temperature of the burger before it gets out of control as well. “One of the quickest ways to defuse discomfort is to simply say, ‘This doesn’t make you feel good. Let’s stop for a moment. I really want to hear you,” says Dreyfus. Or, she says, “Try another piece of quick first aid and say, ‘I can see why you’re upset.'” What you’re doing is interrupting the pattern, she says. But it sends the message that you want to enter their reality.”
2. Come to a safe word
Or take a break from fighting altogether. Most of us usually rush in the middle of a fight, thinking, “I’m not in danger. Why don’t I keep talking to them?” Well, because when your body goes through a shock of electricity, “Your mind is hijacked by chemicals. Chemicals best suited to facing a fire and saving someone.” They are not best suited for collaborative decision-making and compassionate problem-solving.” This is how you end up being defensive – and getting nowhere.
Pushing is pointless “if one of your nervous systems is in an overburdened state,” she says. “You can’t move forward until that person’s physiological system has come back to stagnation.”
The solution? “I wish you a safe word,” Sinarighi says. “I have a couple saying, ‘Yellow flag! Yellow flag! This is their signal to take a break.’” Then say, “Let’s pick this up at a better time” — say, after dinner or on Sunday for breakfast — and follow through. You have to be responsible to get back to him.
3. Take a shower
Do you know what does not help after a fight? Whisper while loading the dishwasher very loudly so that your anger is evident. But there is a reason why you would want to do so. After conflict hijacks your brain, “the brain won’t be back online for most people anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes or more,” says Senargi. Do whatever it takes to turn off the kettle and let it simmer for the benefit of both of you.
“Take deep breaths, inhale some fresh air, take a shower, stretch your body, call a friend, call your therapist, and play video games,” she says. “Do something that will help you lower your heart rate, clear your head, and move toward calm.”
But what if you can’t go your separate ways?
4. Call for a temporary truce
Fights sometimes happen on the way to a kids’ party or dance party, when you just can’t go your separate ways to cool off. Instead of distorting the whole event – and possibly making everyone around you feel uncomfortable – call for a temporary truce. “Accept where you are instead of working so hard trying to get somewhere else,” Dreyfus says. Like, “I know you still don’t adore me, but can we call a truce for now and come back to it later?” You can also call a truce if you know you both are spinning your wheels and you’d be better off shutting up and watching an episode of Ted Lasso together.
You don’t even have to say the words, “I’m sorry.” You just have to take responsibility for something. As in: “I should have called,” “I shouldn’t have spoken to you that way,” or “I should have consulted you first.” Or, as Dreyfus recommends again, “It makes sense that you were upset with me.”
But what if you were thinking, Me? Sorry? Why?! I did not do anything! Well, think more seriously. “Everyone is doing something wrong,” says Sinarigi. “It may be 99 percent of your partner’s fault,” she says, but that doesn’t matter. “Apologize for the 1 percent. What could you have done differently that would change the dynamic a little bit? Then name it.” You might say, “I brought it up at a bad time for you.” “I couldn’t clear my mind after I sat in traffic for two hours on my way home from work and was angry from the start.” Or, “I told you I was listening when I wasn’t actually able to be a good listener yet.” State something specific, says Sinaraghi. “Because the sooner one of you takes responsibility for something, the sooner you’ll move toward fixing it.”
6. Don’t try to explain yourself
If you are somehow wrong, do not try – for the love of all that is good – to explain yourself too quickly. “Avoid explaining or justifying your behavior until you’ve had some openness and flexibility with your partner, when you feel they’re ready to hear it,” says Sinarighi. Because “Well, I thought you wouldn’t show up, which is why I left!” or “You only did this because you always do!” Bit will make your partner feel blamed and closed.
Wait for the right time to express your feelings and point of view. Just make sure you’re getting to the top of your problems – not theirs. So no: “Well, what were you doing during your long talk with your ex?” But more like: “Look, when I heard you ran into your ex, I felt like a stupid high schoolboy and got jealous. I couldn’t help it.”
7. Suggest a return
“One of the most underused interventions is stretching,” says Dreyfus. “To be able to say, You know what? I don’t like my voice now. Can I do it again?”
When people see some goodwill, they are willing to bow.
8. Write a peace offer
Apologizing out loud — even when you’re wrong — can be a daunting endeavor. If this is the case for you, try writing down your feelings instead. “I like written notes because you can do drafts,” says Synaraghi. “If you shoot, sometimes you shoot in the foot because you’re still so angry.” Just keep the note short and sweet and follow the Senarighi’s guide: keep it focused on the other person, validate their experience, empathize with their feelings, and acknowledge your own behavior.
“It’s a little bit like a white flag,” Dreyfus adds. “We are so sensitive to each other’s tone of voice that we can hear the purity of the message untainted by constant contradiction.” Before you give it to them, read it with their eyes. How do you feel when you receive it?
9. Touch a little
Think of cute little gestures: a hand squeeze, a hug, a hand on the shoulder. Initiate the connection that connects you physically, to put you on the path to connecting again emotionally. “When we feel touch or physical closeness with our partners, our heartbeats will synchronize; we are co-regulating,” says Sinaraghi.
Something worth noting: “Some men only touch their partners when they want to have sex. Touch works best if you touch regularly in non-sexual but affectionate ways.”
10. Skip the roses – choose something meaningful
While you’re away from each other, make it a little icon that you care about. Surpatch kids if she likes these. Her favorite pressed juice. This bag of Takis chips. A small gesture that speaks for her identity, specifically, is more meaningful than a large, empty gesture. A big caveat here: “I see a lot of people doing nice things just because they’re ashamed of hurting their partner in a conflict? Says Senari.
You have to do nice things all the time. And if you’re not sure what to do for her, “once a week ask your partner, ‘What can I do to make your week easier?'” or “How can I show you that I love you?” and start collecting those things for fodder.
11. Draw a better path
List what you plan to do differently going forward. You’ll probably be more open about how you’re feeling, less angry on the road while driving, and texting if you’re running late. And if you should? Secretly set an alert on your iCal to help with chores and encourage her to use Waze on the next car trip. “We want our partners to make the change because they see the impact on us, not because we made them sign something.”
12. Sex Make-up
It’s best to introduce make-up sex once your mind has calmed down and your hearts have warmed up. Once you’ve rolled the sheets and are fully formed, you’ll probably swear you’ll never fight like that again. A way to avoid it.
“Most couples get into less intense fights if they pursue small relationship repairs,” says Sinargi. “Do repair work from the rips almost every day. Things like: “Hey, sorry if I’m short, I got nervous because I’m late.” Or, “Sorry if I cut you off this morning, I was focused on this work call.”
It’s the frequent fixes – where one of you has the potential to cause harm to your partner – that prevent resentment from building up and making it difficult to spark big gunfights in the first place.
Amy Spencer is a Los Angeles-based writer and author Meet Your Orange Half: A Totally Optimistic Guide to Using Optimism in Dating to Find Your Perfect Match And the the bright side.
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