We all have recovery rituals that we go through after an emotional argument with our partner. Some people turn up the tunes and drive to their favorite spot for some alone time, some call a best friend to vent, while others cool their jets with some heated makeup sex.
But have you ever thought about whether the way you resolve conflict is actually healthy for your relationship? We spoke with Rachel Sussman, a relationship expert, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Breakup Bible to find out how handle them the RIGHT way.
Avoid “Dirty Fighting”
During a heated argument, words can fall from your lips before you think about their impact. Even when you’re extremely angry, you should never resort to dirty fighting, warns Sussman. Dirty fighting includes name-calling, cursing, or mentally or physically hurting each other. “This is simply immature, cruel, unnecessary and guarantees that a fight will get ugly fast.”
It’s important to learn how to communicate effectively. Do whatever it takes to figure out how to articulate your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. Consider consulting with a mental health professional to help guide you through the process, suggests Sussman.
Start On Their Side
When you’re fighting, your partner is likely to mirror the way you act. So if you want him or her to be even-tempered, you should set that tone. Although it may be hard, keep your body language calm. Try not to fold your arms or raise your voice, advises Sussman.
To help move the ‘conversation’ in a more positive direction, it’s also important to acknowledge your partner’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. This shows that you’re listening and validates their feelings and opinions. Here’s an example of what you can say:
“I hear you that you don’t want to see a movie tonight. You’re telling me that you’re tired and you’ve had a hard day. I get it.”
In this sentence, you’ve just shown your partner that you know how they feel and that their feelings are real and understandable. After the validation, explain why you’re upset without yelling. Sussman suggests saying something like this:
“The thing I’m upset about is that you promised me that tonight was ‘movie night’ and I was really looking forward to not only seeing that movie, but also spending time with you.”
“This statement—since it’s explanatory and not accusatory—will take your partner off the defensive.”
Next: Say “I”
One of the most important concepts in interpersonal communication is the use of “I” statements. During an argument, the “I” statement places the language of responsibility on you and assures your partner that it’s not him or her that irks you, just a specific action they’ve done.
For instance, if you said, “You make me angry,” when your partner forgets a special occasion, your language is non-specific and jabbing. Your partner is hearing, “YOU, as a person, and everything you do by nature of being yourself makes me angry.”
What you mean to say is, “It makes me angry when you forget special occasions.” This removes blame from your significant other and focuses the conversation on the specific issue at hand (i.e. forgetting the special occasions, which is what you want fixed — not him or her as a person).
Focus On The Solution
When arguing, you should always stay “solution-focused,” advises Sussman. If you blindly disagree with no regard for your partner’s feelings and no thought of what you actually want him or her to understand, then why waste your breath? Are you trying to make your partner understand how something he did made you feel? Are you trying to prevent something from happening again? Are you trying to compromise on two opposing beliefs?
Identify what the goal of the debate is, then make it crystal clear to your partner.
Apologize When You Should
While you don’t necessarily need to apologize after every fight—hey, maybe you were in the right!—Sussman emphasizes that anyone should apologize for hurting his or her significant other’s feelings. Even if you did so unintentionally, acknowledging that you’re sorry for hurting your partner is meaningful and respectful. It could be as simple as, “I’m sorry this situation made you upset.”
One final note of advice: Add humor and affection once you’ve reached a resolution. Sussman recommends a phrase like, “You drive me crazy, but I love you anyway.”