Ask Dr. Tracy

Avoiding Fights


Every relationship has its spats. Psychologists once thought that the best cure for anger was to get it out in the open and say what you think. Today, we know that letting anger out does not necessarily make you feel better. If the battle is with a loved one, it makes you feel worse.

After you've been with someone for a while, you begin to know what things will start a fight. With my husband, the ex-race car driver, all I have to do is criticize his driving. That's guaranteed to start a battle. Knowing how to set him off means I have a choice, to fight or not. You too will have a choice in your relationship. Be aware when you choose to start a fight.

When a disagreement becomes a bitter dispute over who's right and who's wrong, things are said that you can't take back. Harsh words spoken in anger are remembered long after, corroding the relationship. Frequent battles embitter the fighters. No matter who wins, both bear the scars.

Say Three Nice Things First...

Always try to appreciate more than you criticize. Still, something your partner does may drive you up your tree and you just have to say something about it. Pick your timing, making sure he or she isn't already stressed out about something else, then say three nice things before you criticize. It also helps if the criticism takes the form of a suggested alternative.

"You know, it's very loving of you to always make breakfast on Sunday morning, and you look so cute in that little peek- a-boo cook's apron, and I'm proud of how well you make your Mother's baked carrot omelette, but maybe we could just have scrambled eggs today -- or maybe even go out to brunch. How about it?" Sounds transparent, but it works. Like being flattered, where you don't believe the words, but are complimented by the fact that someone cares enough about you to try to flatter you.

Avoid Blame

One way to keep a minor problem from escalating into a fight is to avoid accusatory or threatening words like, "You never," "You always," "Why can't you," and "If you don't..." Starting a conversation or discussion this way definitely isn't romantic, and will probably start an argument.

Even if you have a good reason to be mad, don't say, "You made us late and now you'll have to call and tell the Smiths we're not going to be there on time." Instead, say, "Well, we'll have to let the Smiths know we're running late. Who should call?" If your partner made you both late, he or she knows it without you pointing a blaming finger. Avoiding the "you" word works like magic.

Always deflect the "blame" onto some other, preferably inanimate object. Instead of saying "You made a horrible mess in here with your makeup!" say, "There's so much makeup in here I have no place to set my razor down!" Instead of "You promised to take out the trash and you haven't done it!" say, "The trash is really piling up!" You'll be amazed at how far this small difference in words goes in making your partner want to correct the problem instead of getting defensive.

"Reflect" His Or Her Anger

If anger flares, the best response is to "reflect" it. My article on "Mirroring" points out the power of being in agreement. This power even extends to heading off a fight. So get into agreement, even about your partner's anger.

Remember to shift into his or her "Inner Language", and if he or she is visual, say, "I can see why you're angry." If he or she is auditory, say, "I can hear how angry you are." If you have a feelings partner, say, "I can sense how upset you are."

By "reflecting," instead of getting angry back, you're not agreeing that your partner is right and you're wrong, you're simply not disputing his or her feelings. This limited agreement is generally enough to turn the dispute toward discussion rather than escalation.

Use "Self-disclosure"

If, however unlikely, it is you who is clearly in the wrong, an impending storm can often be averted by adroit "Self-Disclosure." Say you're a half-hour late (again), and your partner, doing a slow boil, starts up with "You know I like to be on time, and you're always late..."

Don't give excuses, and don't make promises. Jump right in with, "You know, it drives me crazy, too. I don't know how it happens. It seems that no matter how early I start, I always wind up late."

Then ask his or her advice. "What do you think I should do? Help me think of something. How do you manage to always be on time?"

Your partner, previously ready and willing to fight, may be skeptical and grumpy but will almost certainly calm down. With all disagreement over the problem suddenly gone, he or she is now involved with finding a solution.


Related Keywords: Making Love Grow, Keeping Love Alive, Criticism, Fighting



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