Have you ever noticed how just one word can inflame an argument? Gary and I are wired to enjoy winning. We enjoy some fun competition, but we also like to have the last word. Sometimes that last word can ruin a perfectly good day. The writer of this proverb nails it:
“Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.” (Proverbs 13:3, NLT)
Conflict can get out of hand quickly. Depending on how much emotional reserve you have in your tank, small issues can escalate into major ruptures in a relationship. When your tank is fairly empty, you can react to real or perceived offenses of your mate in a split second. When the tank is fairly full, you are likely to be able to overlook minor missteps and address major ones more thoughtfully.
In his marital research, John Gottmann found that men were key in helping tame conflict. When a husband can respond in a neutral or calm way for at least 5 seconds in response to their wife’s anger, disappointment, or hurt, the effect was a lowered heart rate for himself and a calming influence on his wife.
For the guys:
When your wife is upset, try not to be defensive, lash back, or withdraw. The study showed that the men who followed this advice were much happier. Staying neutral and engaged, despite the negativity of your wife, serves to de-escalate the conflict and make the way for constructive resolution.
For the ladies:
When your husband disappoints you, try not to get all negative. When we feel hurt, one of our go to defense mechanisms is to protect ourselves by putting a negative cast on most of the actions and motives of our mate. The truth is, he usually means well. His failure doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you or that you’re not important to him.
Here is a list of practical things you can do when an argument seems to be ramping up:
- Call it out- tell your spouse you notice things are getting heated and you’d like to help the conversation be productive.
- Take a break- agree to take 20 minutes to breathe, gather your thoughts, calm down and come back. Coming back is essential. If one of you is an avoider, it will be very tempting to not return to the discussion, hoping it has blown over. Unresolved conflict is like embers which continue to quietly burn and then ignite at the least provocation. They don’t just go away. Before you take a break, commit to a specific time when you will come back together and talk about the issue in a calmer way.
- Offer a soothing comment such as, “I’m sorry I raised my voice,” or “I was feeling defensive. I’d like to hear your position on this.” Or consider saying something like, “I feel criticized. Can you rephrase that?”
- Express your hope for a positive outcome. No matter what the argument is about, both you and your mate want the outcome to be an improved relationship. Keep that in focus and express your desire for a win/win result. If you’re just out to win or be right, expect more escalation.
What have you tried that seems to help an escalating argument turn into a positive discussion? Love to hear your ideas! Please comment!