Here’s something that most relationship coaches aren’t going to tell you: fights are a part of relationships. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can learn how to stop fighting.
Doesn’t seem like that makes sense, does it? Stick with me here for a second and you’ll understand.
Relationships are kind of like Fight Club: if you’re you’re dating someone, you’re going to fight. There’s no getting around it. It’s the inevitable result of being in a relationship with another person – there’s going to be conflict, no matter how (drift) compatible you may be.
Trying to avoid fighting means trying to avoid conflict – which usually means that important issues get swept under the rug in the name of “keeping the peace” instead of, y’know, resolving them. And of course, we all know how well denial works when it comes to conflict resolution.
Rather than trying to avoid conflict, people in the most successful relationships learn how to fight so that they don’t end up doing more damage to one another. But learning how to fight is only part of the answer. You also have to know how to stop fighting so that you can actually fix things and move on to the more important parts of the relationship… like the make-up sex.
So just how can you stop fighting with your partner? Well I’m glad you asked…
1) Walk It Off
Anger is like fire; when properly harnessed, it’s an incredibly useful and important tool. On the other hand, if you’re careless with it then you’re going to lose control and it will end up destroying everything you care about.
The problem is that anger is rarely a rational emotion. It’s almost impossible to have a practical discussion with your partner when you’re caught up in anger; it’s entirely too easy to get distracted by side issues or to dredge up old issues to justify why you’re so pissed right now. And like fire, anger can be deceptive. Just because the immediate argument is over doesn’t mean that you’re not still ticked off. Like a campfire, it may seem like things are settled, but one errant spark and suddenly the whole thing flares up again and burns the forest down.
If you want to stop fighting and actually fix things, then you need to give yourself time to cool down. Separately.
Yes, separately. It can be hard to let go of things when the person who’s ticking you off is right there with you; you end up feeling pressured to say you’re better, even if you’re still angry. So the best thing you can do? Get a little bit of space and let yourself calm down.
You want to get away from the scene of the argument (which is going to just keep reminding you of the fact that you’ve had one) and do the things that let you cool off. Take a walk. Hit the gym and jump on the treadmill and burn out that fire by exhausting yourself. Go listen to music that helps calm you down. Beat on the heavy bag like it owes you money.
There are a lot of people who will tell you that you shouldn’t walk off, that every argument should be resolved right then and there. This is a spectacularly, crossing-the-streams-level bad idea; not every conflict is one that can be resolved in one sitting and trying to do so while you’re still angry makes it next to impossible. It’s better to take time to vent, decompress and come back when you’re cool and collected.
Just make sure you let your partner know what you’re doing and why; just standing up and storming out is a great way to really hurt someone. Tell them: “Look right now I’m too angry to think straight. I need to go do X to calm down so we can sort this out. I’ll be back in 15 minutes/a half hour/an hour.”
2) Ask Yourself: Is This The Hill You’re Willing To Die On?
Here’s something that trips a lot of people up: sometimes we pick the wrong battles, whether we’re the aggressor or not. We get upset over the wrong things. We get into fights – or make fights worse – because we don’t stop to ask ourselves whether the fight is one worth having.
One of the most common conflicts in relationships involves the desire to be “correct” rather than “right”. Chalk it up to how men and women are socialized; men are taught that they’re supposed to be “doers” while women are the “feelers”. Men tend to look for concrete “do this and things will be better” solutions to conflicts. Unfortunately, one of the ways that we tend to express this is by pointing out that the other person is mistaken or doesn’t understand.
And let me tell you: there’s nothing like telling a person “no, you’re wrong” to turn a minor fight into a major confrontation. This is a really bad idea when your goal is to stop fighting in the first place.
If we take the classic domestic conflict of “you don’t help me do the dishes” and respond with all the ways that we do contribute (paying the bills, picking up around the house, whatever) then we’re trying show that what we do is equivalent… which it may well be in terms of comparative time/effort spent, but that doesn’t actually address the issue.
Similarly, yeah, your girlfriend may have seen what looked like you flirting with the cute redhead from Accounts Receivable, but clearly nothing was going on, therefore it’s completely unreasonable for her to be mad at you!
The problem with this approach is that we tend to equate being correct with having the moral high-ground and that immediately puts everybody on the defensive. Suddenly you’re feeling unfairly attacked while she is hearing you tell her that she has no right to feel the way that she does. Now you’re both put in the position where you’re no longer actually addressing the problem, you’re arguing about who’s “right” and there’s no real way to back down without losing face. Now you’re fighting to defend your ego and there’s no real way to “win” without losing at the same time.
Being factually correct doesn’t mean that you’re actually in the right – especially when it’s not about the “facts” but about how a person’s behavior makes the other person feel. Being “correct” isn’t going to win you any points, especially when your partner’s seeing it from a completely different perspective. “Winning” the argument is a pyrrhic victory when it ruins the relationship in the process, especially when it’s over comparatively minor details.
You have to ask yourself: “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” Are you really willing to prolong the fight, or even make it worse, rather than just swallowing your pride and listening to what she’s actually saying?
3) Apologize. The Right Way.
The fastest way to stop fighting is simple: apologize. But you can’t just say “well, sorry” and expect everything to be magically ok. You have to apologize the right way.
This is another area that trips a lot of people up: we tend to equate apologizing with being morally wrong. Why should we apologize when we don’t believe we’ve done anything wrong?
Well… because like I said earlier: being “correct” doesn’t mean that you’re “right”. Apologizing isn’t just about who’s wrong or who’s right. It’s also about taking responsibility for how you’ve made other people feel. A sincere apology means understanding why your partner is upset with you and copping to your part in having made it happen.
First: make sure you understand what you’re actually apologizing for. The best way to do this: try to summarize your understanding as to why she’s upset. “You’re upset because you saw me flirting with Helena, am I right?” Then listen. Don’t defend yourself – just listen to why she’s upset. Then apologize for it. “I understand. I’m sorry I hurt you by doing X.”
Did you do something wrong? That’s (sometimes) debatable. What isn’t debatable is the way you made her feel. And if you actually care about the person you’re dating, then you damn well better care about how you make her feel.
Notice very carefully that this is the active voice. There is nothing more infuriating than a weaselly non-apology apology like “I’m sorry you were hurt”; it’s a verbal way of putting the blame on her for being unreasonable, rather than taking responsibility for your part in hurting her. Similarly, you never give an apology with a qualifier. Saying “I’m sorry, but…” is telling her that not only are you not sorry but once again, she’s wrong for feeling that way in the first place.
(To pre-empt the obvious objection: if you feel that she’s consistently unreasonable about the way she feels, then it’s probably well past time the two of you broke up. Either you’re right and she’s impossible, in which case you shouldn’t be dating her in the first place or she’s right and you’re the asshole and she shouldn’t be dating you. Same result either way.)
And above all else: never, ever apologize just to make the fight stop and get her off your back. This not only invalidates the apology – because you’re not sorry – but tells her that you’re not going to do anything about it. You’re essentially interacting on bad faith- you have no intentions of actually resolving the problem, you just want her to shut up. This is incredibly insulting on just about every level and is only going to hasten the inevitable demise of your relationship.
Also: if you’re the one being apologized to – accept the apology without editorializing. Responding to “I’m sorry, I was an asshole” with “Yup, you were” is just going to start the fight all over again.
4) Stop Fighting, Then Resolve The Issue
If you’ve been following the steps, then ideally you’ve both calmed down and gotten to a point where you’ve forgiven each other. This is the time to work out a resolution to the cause of the fight. It’s great that you’ve stopped fighting but that’s just treating a symptom. Unless you actually address the cause, then all you’ve done is just put things on pause until you fight again.
Resolving the conflict should be a collaborative approach. This means you have to work on this together to fix things, not just dictate terms to one another as though you’re negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. You want to ask two questions: “What do you need to make things better?” and “How can we make this happen?”
Relationships are inherently a partnership; you’re supposed to be working together towards a common goal and understanding. They’re not about “who wins” and “who loses”; everyone loses when you’re fighting, no matter who’s actually in the right. Collaborating together to find a way to make things right reinforces the fact that at the end of the day, you’re on the same side.
It’s worth noting: not every solution is going to be a compromise. Sometimes you have to be willing to accept that what you’ve done has hurt your partner and that you’re going to need to make concessions in the name of not hurting them. That’s part of the price of entry to being in a relationship with someone; if you’re unwilling to pay it… well, then you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with them in the first place.
1)Take Time To Make Up.
You’ve managed to stop fighting. You’ve worked together to find a solution. Now it’s time to make up… and in many ways, this is the most important part of arguing with your partner. You may have patched up the issues from the fight, but you’re both still going to feel the sting of the fight and those lingering emotions can poison your relationship if you don’t take care of them.
As it turns out, there’s actually some truth to the old adage of “don’t go to bed angry”; going to sleep can actually preserve negative emotions or even make them worse. It doesn’t do you any good to try to stop fighting if all you’re going to do is cement the anger and hurt.
This is why making up is important. You’re not just resolving the problem, you’re reminding one another that even though you may fight, you still have that core of love and affection for one another. Yes, you may get angry, but that doesn’t mean that at the end of the day, you don’t love each other. It’s important to keep that in sight.
Taking the time to make up afterwards is a form of relationship self-care. It’s a way of reinforcing the bond and making each other happy again. You’re soothing the hurt that you’ve both caused and replacing it with love and contentment. It reaffirms the strength of your relationship and rewards you for fixing the problems instead of just fighting over and over again.
And besides… if you don’t take time to make up, when are you going to have that awesome make-up sex when you do stop fighting?