Every couple fights – often about the stupidest shit. Arguments like, “Why did you look at her like that?”, “Where the fuck have you put my soccer shoes again?”, or even the classic, “You never listen to me!” are common in relationships. But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are ways to stop arguments before they even begin. And there are techniques to stop a fight from escalating and causing irreparable emotional damage.
How to stop a fight before it escalates
The most valuable thing I can teach you here is how to stop a fight before it begins. I’ll show you how with a little fictional example that might sound familiar to you.
A: “Hey what’s up? You seem sad.”
B: “Leave me alone please!”
A: “I just wanted to help you. Why are you treating me like that?”
B: “I don’t wanna talk about it right now!”
A: “Oh yeah, do what you always do. Keep everything bottled up. One day it will kill you!”
B: “You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
In a situation like that, it’s easy to lose control.
A: “You are never going to change, are you? I was such an idiot all this time, believing you could better yourself. This isn’t working out for me. I am out of here!”
But the better approach would be to stay calm, listen to your partner and discuss things without yelling, or swearing, or blaming. Just how do you do that when you want to rip the other one’s head off? The answer might surprise you – you do it with love.
Instead of chiming in and arguing back and forth, next time try to say nothing at all and just hug your partner. Trust me, this will confuse them to no end.
A: “What are you doing? I am mad at you!”
B: “But I love you. Sure, we fight sometimes, but I want you to feel my love even during a fight.”
Do it like Jesus and turn the other cheek. You will see, it’s really hard to fight with a person who doesn’t fight back.
Damage control during red hot fights
If all fails and the fight gets nasty, your options are limited.
Over the last years, I have focused on the topic of damage control during fights, because I felt ashamed and incredibly sorry for the hurtful stuff I would say to my girlfriend. The worst part was, most of what I said wasn’t even true. I just said it to hurt my girlfriend – the person I loved so much. All because I lost control over my emotions.
So, one day my girlfriend Kristina and I sat together and discussed how we could keep our cool even during the most brutal fights. Unfortunately, that conversation ended in a fight… But we didn’t give up. We observed ourselves. We tried different techniques to stay calm. And we found a solution.
Tools to calm down
Your number one goal during a nasty fight is calming down to a level where you can talk without accusations and yelling. To achieve this noble goal, you have two tools at hand: not speaking and leaving. Sounds terrible, but it isn’t.
Not speaking and leaving are the only ways to stop yourself from saying or doing something you would regret later.
So, go to the bathroom and have a shower. Or put on those headphones and listen to your favorite Taylor Swift song – mine is Blank Space. Obviously, this only makes sense if your better half doesn’t rip the headphones off your head. Therefore, you have to talk about it with your partner during peaceful times. Both of you should agree that giving the other enough space to cool down is a good idea. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever talk about it. It just means you postpone it until you aren’t controlled by your emotions anymore.
While you lock yourself away from your significant other, like a werewolf at full moon, you should distract yourself from your emotions to cool off faster. Don’t believe me? Here is what science has to say.
Research suggests it is because both cognitive tasks and emotional responses make use of the same limited mental resources (Baddeley, 2007; Siemer, 2005; Van Dillen & Koole, 2007)… That is, the resources that are used to perform a cognitive task are no longer available for emotional processes. Accordingly, people can rid themselves from unwanted feelings by engaging in a cognitive activity, such as doing math equations (Van Dillen & Koole, 2007), playing a game of Tetris ( Holmes, James, Coode-Bate, & Deeprose , 2008)…
Trying to get down from the emotional ‘high’ is, for once, the perfect time to put all those gaming apps, you have been hoarding on your phone, to good use. Play Candy Crush until your fingers fall off. Or become the #1 ranked Angry Birdist. Whatever you do, make sure you keep your mind busy with thoughts other than how ‘unfairly you have been treated by your partner’.
After the worst is over
Once you are out of ‘Hulk mode’, it’s time to talk about what pissed each of you off so much.
In order to do that, without firing up the fight anew, you and your partner should clarify what exactly made you so angry. I have tested a couple of ways and the following three have worked best for Kristina and me:
- Everyone writes their version of what’s happened down. Then we exchange the papers.
This has often made us realize how stupid the fight was and what we did that hurt the other.
- “I feel… because…”
E.g., “I feel hurt because I have a lot riding on this exam and I feel like you don’t support me enough.”
- We ask, “Did I understand you correctly when you said…?”
This shows your willingness to listen and understand the other one’s point.
Important: Be careful with phrases like “you never…” or “you always…”.
E.g., “You are never there for me.” Or, “You’re always forgetting what’s important to me.” Not only are these phrases inaccurate, they also make you feel like your anger is justified and there’s no way to solve the problem.
What’s so difficult about fights is, that they often make you wonder, “Is it just a fight and everything is alright with the relationship or is my relationship doomed?” There is no easy answer to this question. For me personally, a relationship isn’t over as long as both partners are actively trying to learn from their mistakes. But then again, I am not an expert in the breakup category and I hope I never will be. You have to decide for yourself whether you think the relationship has a future. It’s a damn hard decision to make, but no one else can make it for you.
Before I wrap this article up, I would like to give you a few bullet point tips that didn’t fit anywhere else.
- No matter what you think, you are never 100% right, and neither is your significant other. The truth is always in the middle.
- Will what you are fighting about still matter in 5 years from now?
- How would you feel if someone treated you like you are treating your partner?
- Mind your tone. Often it’s not a fight about a real problem, it’s a fight because of the harsh tone used.
Fights are here to stay
Again, fights are perfectly normal! Sometimes you just had a hard day and feel like your life is in pieces. If someone rubs you the wrong way in a situation like that, it’s going to be hard to stay calm. But if you apply the tips from this post, I am certain you will be able to stop the fight, reconcile, and focus on what truly matters: enjoying the time with your significant other.
After all, life is still better together.