5 Ways to Not Be a Jerk during Your Next Fight
1. Pick the right time and the right place. Do you have at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time? Can you talk openly, 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. Gottman says he can predict 96 percent of the time how a conversation will end based on its first three minutes. Do not start out blaming or calling your partner bad names. Your partner will spend more time defending himself than attending to your needs and feelings. 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 and goals. Recognize that eventually most fights do not stay about the fight's topic, but rather the "way" people choose to fight.
3. Instead of trying to win arguments, try to have a winning relationship! How? Try talking in "I" sentences instead of "you" sentences—speak more about how you feel. (And "I feel you are a jerk!" is not an example of an "I" statement!) Your goal is to get your partner to empathize, so forget about details and facts. Keep staying with your feelings, values, dreams and goals. From this place of empathy, your partner will better hear you and, therefore, 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 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 7 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. When people yell, they get themselves even angrier. Interesting factoid: If you and/or your partner's heartbeat gets higher than 100 beats per minute during an argument, you will not be able to fully understand or process what the other person is saying. 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 meanness. As Marcus Aurelius said, "How much more grievous are the consequences of anger, than the causes of it?"
5. Close a difficult conversation by sharing memories of good times and/or your partner's good qualities. Jump-start loving memories, and defuse bad ones. If it's been a while since you've felt that lusty feeling, you can jump-start this phase anew by going back to those first few romantic courtship places. Chances are you'll experience déjà romance all over again.
Karen Salmansohn is a best-selling author known for creating self-help for people who wouldn't be caught dead reading self-help. Get more information on finding a loving happier-ever-after relationship in her book Prince Harming Syndrome.
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