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  • Isabelle Morley, PsyD

The Key to Reconnecting During Fights

Do you feel like arguments with your partner can escalate quickly? You're not the only one. Luckily, there's one simple way to slow down and reconnect.

I don't know anyone who hasn't felt lonely, angry, and overwhelmed during one argument or another.

When you're in a fight with your partner, it's easy to get locked into a rigid perspective where you can only see your point of view and find your partner to be entirely unreasonable.

The more you try to explain your side of things or express how you feel, the more they resist listening to you (or so it seems).

But, don't despair! There is a very simple way to slow down these fights, reconnect with your partner, and feel good about each other even while you're discussing something hard.

And if you need some more ideas about how to keep things on track during fights, read this post about common mistakes people make that escalate or prolong arguments.

Extend an Olive Branch

This is it. This is the whole secret.

When you're in a fight with someone you love, try extending an olive branch to them.

In psychology we call these gestures repair attempts. They are gestures from one partner to lower the negative affect and reconnect with one another. Repair attempts are essential because, as frustrating at this may be, conflict is inevitable. So while we can't avoid fighting, we can find productive ways to communicate and maintain closeness.

Now, the concept of extending an olive branch sounds simple (and it is), but it can take some practice. Below are some ways to do it.

1. Take Responsibility

Own what you can own. No one, no matter how great, is perfect in a relationship or in an argument. If you made an error, then own it. If you're behaving poorly during the argument, then own it. "I shouldn't have rolled my eyes, that was unnecessary and probably very hurtful." Openly taking responsibility for something will help your partner feel heard and will also make them more likely to take some responsibility for their part in things too.

2. Concede a Point

Concede what you can. If your partner is making sense and has a fair point about something, then say it. Something as simple as, "You're right that I need to be more aware of our schedule," can go a long way.

3. Apologize

Similarly to taking responsibility, it really helps if you offer a genuine apology. Acknowledge what you could have done better and tell your partner why you're sorry. Be as clear and specific as possible. Instead of a quick "I'm sorry for that," go into some detail so that your partner knows you truly mean it.

4. Validate Their Feelings

Tell your partner that they are not crazy and you understand where they are coming from. This is called validation.* And I really can't stress this enough- validation is an amazingly effective way to reduce defensiveness and increase closeness. People are, generally speaking, not totally irrational and insane creatures. We act in certain ways for a reason, and having someone tell you, "I get why you feel that way, I see your point, and I know you're trying to do what's best for us," is incredibly meaningful.

*Don't confuse validation with agreement. You can still disagree with your partner's perspective while also expressing that you see and understand where they are coming from. Don't get caught up in trying to prove who's right or wrong, just validate.

5. Make a Joke

Inserting humor into an argument can help lower the intensity and strengthen your bond. Something simple like, "Well if we can't agree about where to go to dinner I guess we should get a divorce?" can put the argument into perspective for both of you and bring some levity to the situation.

Be careful, though, with your joke, timing, and tone. If it's a very serious argument and you're both incredibly angry, a joke may come across as you being dismissive, sarcastic, or uncaring.

6. Share Your Vulnerable Feelings

Instead of sticking with the content (what the actual fight is about, like who should do laundry), try sharing the bigger feelings you're having. Help your partner better understand where you're coming from. Say, "I can tell I'm being defensive because this conversation makes me feel like I'm not good enough," will be much more relatable to your partner than accusatory statement like, "You're always critical and mean."

7. Take a Big Step Back

Pull each other out of the argument by bringing in the big picture. Don't stay stuck in the weeds of the specific issue at hand. Observe the larger patter or process, and see your relationship on a large scale instead of the one moment.

Tell them: "I know we can get heated about this issue and it's very important to both of us for different reasons. I also know that we're both trying out best to find a solution and sometimes we have a hard time doing that together. Even though we're in a tough place, I love you and I'm committed to figuring this out with you."

BONUS TIP: Just Be Nice

I know, I know, this seems like common sense. And really, it is common sense. However, a lot of us are meaner than usual during arguments, and this can really escalate things.

A few quick rules of thumb:

-no swearing

-no name-calling or degrading

-no mocking or meanly imitating

-no sarcasm or eye-rolling

-no cruel statements or character assassinations

Even at your most angry, maintain respect for your partner and don't treat them cruelly. If you can be nice during the argument, even better.

Remember, no matter how upset you are with them, you chose this person and they probably have many wonderful qualities (that you just can't see right now because you're angry). They are a human with feelings who can be hurt and overwhelmed, just like you, so do your best to show them kindness even if you're angry, and hopefully they'll do the same.


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