We’ve all been there. A relaxed, idyllic evening with our partner. Perhaps a candle or two, the living room sofa, a forehead kiss.
And then, as if someone had sat on the TV remote and changed the channel from a love story to a wrestling match, the mood shifts. No more warmth, tenderness, dulcet tones. Suddenly there’s shouting, a ping-pong of accusations, dead stares, hostility streaming from eyes like red laser pointers.
It all started with an innocuous remark about him being on his phone again, but somehow turned into a court ruling on multiple cases: our apparently defining character trait of selfishness, what really happened last Sunday, and of course, somebody’s mother.
We’d like to explain ourselves, but we don’t have time. We’re being cut off and attacked anew. We’re like a soldier fighting flying arrows. Each accusation strikes deeper and deeper into our sense of justice.
The more we talk, the less our partner seems to understand. The farther away we get from an agreement. Something is wrong. But what?!
We often judge our relationships for the fights we have with our partners, the bitter aftertaste they leave in our mouths. But we can spare ourselves at least that part of the suffering.
Contrary to popular belief, not all conflict is bad. Conflict can even be healthy for a relationship. It offers a chance to grow, to understand each other, to get better at the game of “us.” The problem isn’t that we argue. The problem is how we argue. Here are the do’s and don’ts of healthy conflicts:
Do remember that as much as it might feel this way, we’re not, actually, in a court of law with our partner
The point of an argument isn’t to prove the other guilty or to win. It is to restore kindness and connection. This is impossible to achieve if we’re attacking, accusing or too attached to proving our point. Think of it this way – if somebody wins, both parties lose.
Don’t kitchen sink
I cannot stress this enough. “Kitchen sinking” is a pop psychology term for the favourite activity of the assaulted. Our partner makes one mistake, and we suddenly feel the urge to generously bring up all of their mistakes (even if they happened two years ago, even if we didn’t say anything at the time, even if they have already profusely apologised and we’ve allegedly accepted the apology).
An argument that started about one thing that’s wrong becomes about everything that’s wrong. But we all hate dirty dishes and if we do this, there’s no getting out of the mess.