Fighting with your sweetie? If so - are you fighting fairly - or are you being a jerk when tensions rise high? Everyone of us has a little streak of asshole - hopefully only a slight wedgie streak! In my new book PRINCE HARMING SYNDROME I give many tips on how to keep that jerk-factor to a minimum during those highly stressful times of conflict.
1. Pick the right time, the right place. Do you have at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time ahead? Are you in a place where you can talk openly and not self consciously? In general, the best place to talk is alone in your home, where you can sit facing each other, with good strong eye contact.
2. Avoid harsh start-ups. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman says he can predict 96% of the time how a conversation will end based on its first three minutes. In PRINCE HARMING SYNDROME I share a a lot about tapping into what Aristotle called "the virtuea of discipline and conscious insight. " Tapping into this dynamic duo definitely helps one to avoid using criticism, sarcasm or cruel words. Be aware of not starting out blaming—or calling your partner bad names—or your partner will spend more time defending himself than attending to your needs and feelings. Instead, try beginning with a compliment about what you appreciate about your partner. Also, include a reminder about how you really want to work on your relationship so it succeeds and you both can grow together. Begin by calmly explaining how the conflict affects you—your feelings, values, dreams, goals. Recognize that eventually most fights do not stay about the fight’s topic—but rather the “way” people choose to fight—and consciously choose to share your concerns with warmth and integrity.
3. Don’t try to convince your partner you are right. Instead of trying to win arguments, try to have a winning relationship! How? Try talking in “I” sentences instead of “you” sentences—so you speak more about how you feel. (And “I think you are a jerk!” is not an example of an “I” statement!) Your goal is to get your partner to empathize—so forget about harping on details and facts. Keep staying with your feelings, values, dreams, goals. From this place of empathy, your partner will better hear you—and thereby want to find a way to take care of your needs and feelings. If the conversation escalates, be sure to tell your partner that you recognize that your point of view is relative. Your truth is not necessarily the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Be ready to be convinced out of your anger and misery. As Stephen Covey brilliantly stated in his fabulous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand—then to be understood!”
4. Put in the virtue of discipline to calm yourself before you begin talking. Although studies show that yelling is better than stonewalling, yelling has its share of problems. Studies show when people yell, they get themselves even angrier. Interesting factoid: If you and/or your partner’s heartbeat becomes higher than 100 beats per minute during an argument, you will not be able to fully understand/process what the other is saying. Basically, when you’re angry, your brain’s processing becomes blocked, and it’s literally more difficult to solve problems and express yourself clearly. Plus—duh—you’re more likely to foolishly inflame the situation with insults and petty meannesses. As Marcus Aurelius said: “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger, than the causes of it.”
5. If you are upset at your partner for something specific that they did, try not to generalize their action by saying, “You always do this. You always say that.” Generalizations will only escalate your partner’s emotional state because they’re more vague to discuss, and less believable. Come on. Be honest with yourself. A realistic “always” action is a very rare thing. Psychologists all agree it’s best to limit your talk to the one specific recent event that is bugging you, and make past offenses not admissible evidence.
6. I've said it before—and I’ll keep saying it: I believe nearly all our lessons in life are lessons in learning how to get better at loving and being loved. If your partner is angry with you, recognize that his anger is a misdirected plea for love. Your partner’s simply upset because he feels something you said or did was a sign of not loving him enough. View his anger through this lens. When you have this conscious insight about anger, you can more swiftly feel better about sharing loving words and a loving response with your angry partner.
7. If you’re upset with your partner, name the exact emotions you are feeling. For example: angry, resentful, hurt, embarrassed, humiliated, vulnerable, afraid, uptight, depressed. Researcher Matthew Lieberman from UCLA discovered that simply straightforwardly recognizing that you’re feeling a negative emotion—like anger—can calm this emotion by 50%—because it halves your “amygdala activation” to consciously observe your emotions. I want you to double up the benefits of this halving. After you’ve named a negative emotion, rename it with a positive. Consciously decide to replace each negative emotion with one of the following words: acceptance, forgiveness, surrendering, empathy, warmth, love, understanding. Contemplate this word,
over and over, as if it were a mantra.
8. If interruptions are invading an angry discussion, slow down and segment up. Decide to give each of yourselves your own segmented 10 minute expression non-interruptus time block to talk and be heard— until you both feel heard.
9. Make sure your body language is not cursing and shouting. It’s very harmful to a conversation with your sweetie if your arms are crossed or your face is sneering. Studies show it helps to hold each other’s hands while having a difficult conversation because due to Neural Linguistic Programming it taps into the “I love you” reminders in your brain.
10. Close a difficult conversation by purposefully sharing memories of good times you’ve shared and good qualities you love about your partner, so as to jumpstart loving memories, and defuse bad ones. If it’s been a while since you’ve felt that lusty, feisty feeling of romance, you can jump start this phase anew, by going back to those first few romantic courtship places. Chances are you will re-feel the love thanks to the romance feng shui of this place—and you will experience deja romance all over again. Also be sure to end a difficult conversation by creating an obvious upside to talking—so you and your partner will want to share honest difficult conversations again. In other words, be sure to close the conversation by consciously listing all the positive things you learned thanks to the perk of the virtue of discipline.
PRINCE HARMING SYNDROME offers many more jerk-avoidance communcation strategies, which I will be sharing in future blog posts. In the meantime, I'd love to hear some of what has worked for you in dealing with those difficult conversations. Please share your stories below.