Oh you will fight. If you are in a partnership of any kind
for any length of time, you will fight. This is normal. You will fight about
ridiculous things and important things, things long gone and things that
haven’t happened yet. Some of you will fight loud and some of you will fight
with closed lips and a few cold words. Some of you will get a rush from it and
some of you will hate every minute.
It isn’t how you fight or how often you fight that will
necessarily damage your relationship; it is how you stay connected when you do
fight. Relationship researcher extraordinaire, John
Gottman calls these gestures during conflict repair attempts.
Repair attempts are the ways in which people remember their
connection in this midst of a conflict. It can be a little gesture that says,
“I know we love each other, even now”. It is a moment of outwardly slowing down
the escalation to show I am staying in this with you, I am being careful with
you and me, I care about what happens here. Repair attempts are gestures of
peace that make all the difference if they are received by your partner.
Here are some things to try :
Say how you feel.
Not the surface, “I am pissed off” feeling, but the other ones a bit under the
surface. This will require that you slow yourself down for a minute and get
vulnerable. Be honest with your partner about what is being stirred in you in
this moment. Could be, “I am feeling judged and ashamed.”, “I am feeling scared
of losing you.” “I am feeling like a little kid being scolded and I want to
rebel.” “I feel defensive”. This grounds the conversation in an emotional
reality and makes it easier to be gentle with one another. Take a breath and be
Say that you can see
their side of things. Valuing their perspective doesn’t mean they are all
right and you are wrong. It means hearing one another and being reasonable. You
might repeat back what you have heard them say to make sure you understand. You
might say, “I see your point…” or “I dan’t thought of it that way.” Also it is
good to acknowledge the things that are working even while addressing a problem
between you. Tell them something you appreciate about them or something they
are doing that is helpful to the situation. Nothing is black and white here.
Say how you messed
up. Sorry to tell you but most likely there is some small way in which you
misspoke or responded less than ideally. And the thing is you probably know it; you
just are using that frustration with self to fuel your frustration for the
argument. Try defusing that. You don’t have to make it heavy; you can say,
“Duh, that was the wrong thing to say, sorry.” Or you can say, “Let me try that
again” or simply, “ I don’t like how I responded there.” Its ok, we all play
Say that you need to
calm down. Once we hit a certain emotional frequency, it is nearly
impossible to think clearly. Let your partner see that you are taking care of
yourself as a way to stay present. You can say, “Hang on. I need to slow down
and take a breath.” Or “I am feeling overwhelmed and am having trouble taking
this in. Can we slow down?” Or maybe you need to stop the conversation right
now and come back to it later when you are clearer. Saying this now can save
you a lot of wasted arguing.
Say that you trust
your bond. This is more subtle than the rest but it can be the strongest
kind of repair attempt. It relies more on your relationship style and history.
Many people use humor for this. They crack a little joke to lighten the mood a
little. Some people might use a private reference point or something like,
“Well, I guess we have to have our quarterly fight sometime.” Or some people
just reach out a touch their partners hand or shoulder, silently saying “I do
love you, you know.” The key is that these are delivered with a smile and from
a genuine place of good will and trust.
Say that you love
them. Remember it and say it. And if you see a repair attempt coming your
way, honor that for what it is – a way to stay connected. Take in the gesture
of good will by responding in kind. Take a deep breath, slow your roll, and
remember why you love this person enough to bother arguing with them.