Learn to Fight Nice
he argument started when you mentioned that he didn't take out the trash -- again. He made a snappy retort, you both started raising your voices, and several unkind words later, that simple comment about a once a week chore blew up into a full scale War of the Roses. After dusting yourself off, you begin to wonder: Can you and your guy ever get through a week without squabbling?
Maybe. But even if you can avoid some arguments, "trying to prevent conflict altogether is not only unrealistic, it's undesirable," says Linda Sapadin, PhD, author of Master Your Fears: How to Triumph over Your Worries and Get on with Life (Wiley). "Working things out with your mate, negotiating and resolving conflict is absolutely healthy, as long as you do it in a productive way."
Here's how you and your mate can roll with the punches -- without hitting below the belt.
Tune into your differences Before the next conversation heats up, consider that you probably have different approaches to arguments. Perhaps you easily share what's on your mind and state your frustrations straight out. Your other half may be more passive-aggressive or simply avoid conflict all together. Or perhaps it's the other way around. If you are arguing in different ways your disagreement might end up being more about how you are fighting rather than the issue at hand. "You can be arguing for hours and never address the real problem," says Sapadin. Find a time when you are getting along, and discuss your different approaches -- it will be helpful the next time conflict arises.
State clearly how you feel When conflict occurs, stick to the issue at hand and don't point a finger. "State as clearly as you can what you're upset about," says Anthony Wolf, PhD, author of Why Can You Shut Up: How We Ruin Relationships and How Not To (Ballantine). "Your goal should not be to convince him that he was in the wrong, but rather how his actions made you feel."
Commit to hearing his side Once you've said what's on your mind, give him the opportunity to offer his version of events. "It may take considerable willpower to avoid cutting him off before he's finished," says Wolf. "But resist the urge to respond point-by-point to what he's saying." Offering him the floor for as much time as he needs can go a long way towards building trust -- and resolving your grievances. Everyone wants to know they've been heard.
Avoid slinging arrows As you both respond to the points that the other has made, it's only natural to get emotional. But while it's fine if the disagreement escalates, "stay away from name calling and righteous indignation," says Sapadin. "Not only will hurtful statements demand an in-kind response, they can haunt you for years to come." Try to focus your attention on resolving the issue, not "winning" at any cost.
Give yourself time to process After you've both shared what's on your minds, let the issue rest -- for a while. "Few people like to admit they're wrong in the middle of a disagreement, so take a break to consider what the other has had to say," suggests Wolf. After a relatively short period of time, you might find that you understand where he's coming from, or (surprise!) he's the first one to apologize.
Amanda Pressner is a freelance journalist based in New York City.
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