June 1, 2020

So you are about to get married (or maybe you are already married!) and the idea of fighting just isn’t part of your idea of wedded bliss. You will vow to love each other through and through, in sickness, in health, all that good stuff. 

But let’s face it. We all disagree. We all argue. We all get mad. And that is ok. Fighting the truth that people do not always get along will only lead to an unrealistic expectation of your partner and your marriage. So, how’s about we reframe it? Change the wording, the assumptions about our partner’s thoughts and feelings, and how we resolve, repair, and improve our communication.

Fighting is destructive. Arguing is constructive. You love each other, remember? So when tensions rise, the point is not to tear each other down, but to allow a safe space to set egos aside, express feelings, and actively listen. Here are a few ways to de-escalate and love each other better even in the hard times.

First off, Slow. Down. The second you feel that heightened sensation in your body (you know it…hot, racing heart, tunnel vision), notice that. See where you are and slow down.

When you are able to observe your reaction, you can make a choice and take deep breaths. Yes, we’ve all heard it before. But the science is real. Deep breathing will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. Then you can respond to what is actually happening, instead of reacting impulsively to the feelings. 

Next, give the benefit of the doubt AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN. Remember, you are not in their head. And if you decide that your perception or interpretation is irrefutable truth, there is a likelihood you are wrong. So, ask questions. This is key. Accusations bring up walls. Simple, direct questions to gain information instead of assuming intent will automatically slow things down. And if you aren’t sure about tone, especially in text, find out. You need verbal and nonverbal communication to really understand. Don’t make a habit of filling in the blanks on your own. 

Another piece in resolving conflict and strengthening your relationship is to increase your own self-respect and love. If someone lashes out at us, it feels awful. But this can be an opportunity for empathy and to practice investigating instead of assuming. What do we know about this person, their life, their circumstances, their day? Whatever happened, it is a reflection of their inner struggle, not your character. Now is the time to take a breath, be aware of your tone and volume, and ask what’s going on. This tactic softens the moment and is less likely to lead to knock down, drag-out mess. What if you were feeling cranky and irritable and instead of insincerely asking, “What’s your problem?” your loving partner asked, “What’s going on? What do you need?” Now you have the opportunity to turn towards one another, connect, and learn more about each other.

Finally, learn to repair. Winning is not the goal. Blame and shame lead to resentment and shut down. Saying sorry is hard for some people, no doubt. But regardless of who started the fight, usually both people are involved, both escalated, and both could stand to apologize. So, if you are committed to growing together, repair repair repair. Hearing your partner out, acknowledging how you contributed to the miscommunication, and actively working on knowing and doing better will strengthen your bond. 

Using these strategies regularly will help create new neural pathways for conflict resolution. This means more trust in each other and with this mutually respectful environment, you are setting your relationship up for long-lasting success.