During conflict, remind yourself of how much they love and care about you…

Couples who fight well go on a journey to resolve conflict together.

“Look, we’re going to find something that works for both of us. We’re in this together.”

They can also be firm and stay connected by saying things like, “Your opinion matters to me, and I’m not budging on this aspect”, or, “I understand how you feel, and I think you’re being a little greedy. I also think you’re aware of that”. These couples are able to be honest, and are willing to tolerate the discomfort required to find a win-win solution.

If you find yourself fighting with your partner and start to feel stuck or overwhelmed, do the following 11 tricks:

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1. Sit down and talk face-to-face

When you fight over text, the phone, or from different rooms in the house, it increases the chance of your “primitives” dominating the conversation, says Tatkin. When you’re looking at each other’s faces while you argue, it allows the “ambassadors” to keep you present and more open. Tatkin advises couples to sit no less than three feet apart.

2. Talk kindly

Dr. Gottman’s research was able to predict how a conversation would end with a 96% accuracy, based on how it started in the first three minutes. If you start a conversation critically, your partner’s “primitives” will step in to protect them and attack you. Learn how to talk kindly here. A helpful way to do this is to start your conversation by naming five things you appreciate about your partner. This helps keep your “ambassadors” in the driver seat and waves what Tatkin calls the “Flag of Friendliness”.

3. Focus on feelings, not facts

Fights in relationships are not so much about the facts, but rather how the events made us feel. If you notice that you’re fighting over who said what and when, take a break. Tatkin says that when this happens couples are engaged in “Blah-blah-blah” warfare instead of connection. To resolve conflict, you must connect by understanding the feelings that this event created and what it meant about you, your partner, and the relationship, before you try to resolve it.

4. Take a timeout

Tatkin advises partners to “shut up” in the heat of an argument, because when you’re flooded, the things that are going to come out of your mouth will be garbage. You can take a preventative step to stop the cycle of attack-counterattack by agreeing on a signal or phrase that stops the conversation and gets you back on track. The only way this works is if both partners agree on the signal and take ownership for changing course, rather than calling each other out.

5. Talk slowly and softly

When a couple is in a heated argument that isn’t going well, they speak more quickly, and often speak over each other. Sometimes they both began to talk louder. This signals to the “primitives” to prepare for war. Instead, talk slowly and softly. Your tone of voice will help keep the conversation from escalating.

Fights in relationships are not so much about the facts, but rather how the events made us feel

6. Be concise

Condense your side of the issue into one sentence so your partner can understand. When someone talks too long about an issue, it can feel like an avalanche is coming down a mountain. This can cause the “primitives” to step in. Instead, say something in one sentence, and have your partner reflect it. Doing this keeps your partner at your side as you journey into the hurt feelings of this particular event.

7. Stay calm by breathing deeply

When you take deep breaths, you regulate your nervous system. This gets you closer to the deeper feelings you have about the problem and opens you up to connecting with your partner. Here is a Ted Talk on how to breathe properly. When I notice my “primitives” are dominating the conversation with my partner, I’ll pause and practise tactical breathing to ground myself.

8. Express love

Dr. Gottman discovered that stable marriages have five positive interactions to every negative interaction during conflict. So when you’re fighting, add in positive comments. “I really love you and sometimes I get frustrated about this because…”, “I know you have my best interest at heart, and I know we are going to resolve this”.

9. Yield to win

In conflict, it’s likely that your partner is expecting push-back, so when you put your side of the conflict on hold and get curious about their experience, it disarms their “primitives”. You can do this by asking open-ended questions such as, “This seems really important to you. Can you help me understand why?” Dr. Gottman calls this “yielding to win”.

10. Lead with relief

Offer reassurance when you see your partner react to something, and acknowledge your role to help your partner stay calm. Tatkin calls this “Leading with Relief” because it calms the “primitives”. You can do this by saying things like,

  1. “I had no idea that you were so bothered by what I did. I’m sorry I made you feel that way.”
  2. “I know this is a hard conversation and I want us to have a relationship where we can express our feelings without worrying that it’ll ruin our relationship.”

11. Think relationship enhancing thoughts

How you think about your partner has an impact on how you’ll respond to them. During conflict, remind yourself of how much they love and care about you. Tell yourself how this difficult conversation is a sign that you deeply care about each other, and that it will improve your relationship. These thoughts will help keep you calm and present.

By skilfully implementing these into your conflict conversation, your partner and you are more likely going to have mature dialogue that expresses warmth and love, instead of highlighting each others’ inadequacies and imperfections.

Read Kyle’s full article, titled War or Love: Flaws of The Human Brain in Relationship Conflict here.