It’s easy to get into an argument. All it takes is an impulsive outburst. But how easy is it to get out of this mess? Before you know it, you can find yourself in a heated disagreement. Hurtful words can echo in both partners’ hearts for the rest of the relationship. Because people are so very different, we see things from different perspectives. An impulsive jab often turns into a “he said, she said” situation with no logical resolution. Power intrudes as well. Sometimes neither person really cares what the argument is about. They just want to defend their position and get a feeling of being in control. Could you then admit that you felt vulnerable and just needed help or reassurance? This is probably why many arguments go unresolved. Some can even escalate.
Arguing and disagreeing are part of any relationship. Couples who say they never argue may actually be missing out. Hiding our real feelings or beliefs from one another doesn’t create much passion or intimacy. If a heated discussion can help us to see another’s perspective, it can be enlightening and even beneficial.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman found that two-thirds of all arguments are perpetual. These disagreements keep re-surfacing, and there is no effective way to resolve them. This fact doesn’t have to be a bad thing. This statistic merely says, “We are different and have come from unique places in our journey.” The trap that many people fall into is expecting others to see their perspective, through the same filter. But our life stories are never going to be identical. And if they were, we would probably feel little attraction to one another. Differences create fascination.
But we don’t want our relationships destroyed by friction or conflict. Here are five ways to end an argument peacefully. Keep in mind that I didn’t say these options would resolve an argument. Rather, I mean it’s possible to end it and move on.
- Remember that your relationship is bigger than your argument and will hopefully last a lot longer. Several minutes of a heated disagreement can’t compete with all the other wonderful moments of your 1,440 minutes each day. Summon a happy memory or remember why the two of you fell in love.
- Humor helps. Laughter and humor are known to have widespread health benefits. No kidding, this is true! Find something to laugh about, even if it is yourself. Maybe you don’t have to win this one and can take the high road to preserve your own serenity.
- Suggest a time-out. We use time-outs in child discipline when a little one is acting out, so why not use it on ourselves? Adults are just grown-up girls and boys with bigger toys. Offer to come back to the issue at a later date.
- Keep a better perspective of the role conflict plays in any relationship. Remember how different each of you are, and that merging two personalities requires effort—or just a lot of luck and kindness.
- Use physical touch. A warm hug, a pat on the back, or a soft kiss (if you have permission from your loved one) tells your significant other that affection and respect are still there. Holding hands can soften the words used in heat. The expression, “Don’t go to sleep angry” makes sense. Exit the argument on a positive note.
Many couples find that after an argument, they experience a renewed desire for physical closeness. This need doesn’t make much sense unless we think about the fact that romance flows from a mutual perception of our authentic selves. We fall in love (and we feel loved) when we believe we are sharing something profound that nobody else can see with the same degree of acceptance and accuracy. When we have the courage to share something deep about our true priorities, values, or goals, we are giving each other an opportunity to potentially fall in love again, at a deeper level. A conflict-free resolution may look good from the outside, but it’s possible to ignore each other or fake agreement until there is no honesty left. Paradoxically, standing one’s ground is a fruitful act of self-exposure and an invitation to understand one another better.
This paradox certainly isn’t what we were taught about what an argument means. We come from a long history of dominant/submissive relationships that create a façade of compliance and unity. According to this world view, a disagreement signals a dangerous rebellion or an abusive exercise of force. But this paradigm is cracking apart under the impact of social change. As men and women gain greater equality, we are relying on genuine love rather than family pressure or joint financial interests to hold our marriages together. Debates provide a useful system of checks-and-balances.
Nevertheless, because we all fear being deprived of love or being shamed and criticized, there is one more important change I want to suggest. When you are angry at your lover or spouse, you may not feel like doing this, but it can be incredibly helpful. Before you let yourself express all of your frustration, look your partner and say,
I want you to know how much I love you. There are some things I need to talk about, and I don’t want to talk about them before I tell you that. I believe that if we stay in touch with how much we love each other, we can resolve anything. Can you take the time now to listen to what I have to say?
How can you refuse when it’s presented this way? Here’s hoping that you are able to enjoy smooth sailing most every day and that all of your disagreements will pass quickly and easily, like brief showers of rain that can’t ruin the voyage.