Even the best couples fight sometimes — that’s just what happens when two people who care about each other spend a lot of time together. But unfortunately, in some cases, arguments can escalate quickly, turning a little disagreement into a big issue.
Obviously, no one wants that to happen, but it can and does. There are plenty of reasons this can happen, says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go? Maybe you’re stressed out and tired, you’re really passionate about the subject you’re arguing about or one (or both) of you just tends to get fired up easily.
Fights can also escalate quickly when they involve unresolved issues and old resentments, says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago. “The old hurts are like a keg of gasoline, and the new arguments are like the sparks that set off the gasoline, making things escalate in explosive ways,” he says. And of course, the danger in getting to this point is that you can say things you’ll both later regret.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to try to keep things from getting out of hand. Try one or all of these tricks to keep your arguments above the fray.
Simply walking away can be seen as “stonewalling,” which is where one person shuts the other out, Durvasula says. But asking if you can have a moment to clear your head — and actually taking time to do it — can help get the conversation back on track.
It’s a weird trick, but it works. Changing spaces can give you a reboot. “The simple art of motion and a different setting can take you off track — lots of arguments are two people saying the same thing over and over just in a louder volume each time,” Durvasula says. “Moving location can change this loop.” BTW, if your argument starts in the bedroom, Durvasula recommends moving to a different spot since that room should be a space reserved for intimacy.
Saying something like, “I just want to make sure I understand where you’re coming from. What I think you’re saying is…” can help show your partner that you’re trying to see their side of the story. “The best thing we can do in an argument or any interaction with a partner is to attempt to see their point of view,” Durvasula says. “In so doing, we can often de-escalate anything because it shows the other person that you may not agree, but you can see their point of view.” Not only does it convey that you’re trying to understand where your partner is coming from, Durvasula says it might also help you calm down in the process.
Using the word “you” can feel accusatory, but “I” or “I feel” statements force you to take ownership of your feelings, Durvasula says. “It helps contextualize the issue and the associated feeling,” she explains. For example, “I feel annoyed that we spend every Saturday with your friends.” “You” statements, on the other hand, (“You always insist that we hang out with your friends all the time”) get an argument nowhere.
When a fight escalates, the best thing you can do is to try to switch to damage-control mode, Klow says. “Try to calm your own emotions and find a way to bring the interaction to a safer place,” he explains. That includes changing your tone, saying something unexpected or injecting a little humor to find a way to reassure your partner that you still care.
Arguments are just that — arguments. What they’re not is a sign that your relationship is over. “Don't overreact to arguments,” Durvasula says. “Some people view arguments as harbingers of doom and become hysterical in the face of them.” Sure, if you’re always fighting, it’s not a good sign, but overall, arguing here and there is normal in a relationship, she explains. “You can argue, but… after the argument check in with your partner and let them know you love them,” Durvasula says. “Arguments happen. It really comes down to how they are conducted and dealt with on the back end that speaks to the health of the relationship.”
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