Fighting with your partner sucks, especially when you don’t have the time or energy to sit and talk through the conflict. Honestly, there is nothing worse than seething for hours while waiting for an apology text. But according to Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together, taking time to cool off and check in with your emotions is necessary when it comes resolving conflict. Here, she shares some tips on how to diffuse an argument and avoid making an irreparable issue in your relationship.
Figure out where your feelings are coming from
Unbridled anger often comes from deeper wounds. When you find that you cannot let go of something, think about why you are so hurt by what happened. Was it inconsiderate? Do you feel ignored? “Taking the time to get clear about your disappointment and feelings will make it easier for you to be clear with your partner, as well as easier for your partner to figure out what to do to comfort you,” Dr. Tessina says.
Recognize that you are responsible for your response
It’s easy to assume that your partner has a responsibility to fix how you feel. However, Dr. Tessina warns against this approach. “It seems very logical that if someone else hurt you, then that person should fix it, but it doesn’t always work that way,” she says. “If someone who loves you has hurt you, he or she either doesn’t understand how you feel or isn’t thinking clearly.” Sure, it may have been his or her actions that led to the conflict, but you are responsible for your emotional response.
Make sure you are thinking rationally
When something is wrong, our minds have a way of jumping to the worst possible scenarios. We begin to compile a list of issues we’ve had in the past and hypothetical outcomes for the future. As soon as you find yourself going fatalist, take a second to breathe and regain control of your thoughts. Try looking at the situation objectively before talking to your partner.
Swallow your pride
Rather than waiting for your partner to beg for forgiveness, forgo your ego and own up to your part in the situation. Even if you think they hold a majority of the responsibility for the issue, taking them off the defensive will help de-escalate the conflict, making it easier to have a helpful conversation.
Accept that a resolution may not happen right away
Communication is key, but that doesn’t mean you’ll every conflict will resolve itself after the first conversation. “If someone is very hurt or defensive, it may take a few discussions to resolve this problem,” Dr. Tessina says. “Remember that it is worth the time it takes, because it will prevent this from becoming a recurring problem.”