In the middle of a fight, go for a walk alone. (Maximum walk time: 1 hr. After this, you’ve entered into Passive Aggressive Meanness.
Oh god the cold shoulder. Nothing worse. (Soldiers of war, protestors for peace and unfortunate lion tamers just rolled over in their graves) Okay scratch that – there are definitely worse things.
But for now, we’re talking about two people in a relationship, possibly living together, possibly married – or bless their tenacious hearts – maybe on a second date (hang in there – could be worth it?) and they’re in a scrap. A huff. A tiff. The most common of events –but it usually feels like a one-of-a-kind torture unlike any other throughout the history of time: A fight. Their fight. Your fight.
Under the banner of Your Really Shitty Fight – we are going to include the following crappy behaviors: the cold shoulder, the mumbler (passive agresssive – verbal) the slammer of doors & household items (passive aggressive – physical), the critic, and the name caller. Unless you’re dating a saint, you’ve all been there and you know exactly what I’m talking about. But what do you do?
For women and men alike, here are five steps to get you through any of these bummer interactions; five steps to get you through any fight.
1. Consciously Breathe.
I know it sounds ridiculous; you’re already breathing, aren’t you? Ahh, but this is a specific instruction: breathe consciously. In the face of any silence, verbal attack or angry table-setting, STOP where you are. STOP your mouth from saying whatever it was about to say, (put that plate down?) and take a big breath that you are aware of. Take a deep one. Make it slow. Ideally, do this five times. By now, you may have started weeping. Great! You’ve shifted the dynamic away from an adversarial one…to something better. (Unless you’re shouting insults while wailing. – In this case, please return to the beginning of this paragraph.) Or perhaps you’ve decided to go for a walk. Perfect. You diffused the rant! Bravo. Whatever the outcome, by breathing, you took a moment to take stock, and you diverted the exchange from hurtful and destructive, to….well, to something better than hurtful and destructive. Nicely done.
2. Do Or Say The Opposite Of Whatever You’re Doing Or Saying.
I know, I know: this sounds impossible. Laughable, even. But do you want lower blood pressure? Do you want to live a happier, healthier life? Do you want a chance at True Love? Then read on, my wary friend. During your fight, your heart is hurting, you feel misunderstood, and you want the other person to know it. HOWEVER. The way that you’re going about it may not, in fact, be the most efficient route to this outcome. Fights are like familiar dance steps. You usually find yourself yelling at your sweetie “Are we really going over this AGAIN?” What I propose, is that you UNDO the pattern. Re-invent the Fox Trot. Who says a Waltz has to be “3/4”? I challenge you, dear reader, to CHANGE the pattern of your fights (change your brain) …and do the opposite of the usual. When you want to yell “I have ASKED you to CLEAN OUT THIS CLOSET for 6 MONTHS NOW” – instead, clean out the closet yourself. Then go for a walk.
(Magic: With space and time, your honey will suddenly realize why you feel hurt and misunderstood.)
(I’m telling you. Do this. I do. And our fights are far shorter, lighter, and sillier with each passing year of successful marriage.)
3. Be A Scientist
What, you ask? What are you talking about? Now work with me here. I think you might agree: Meanness is the worst. Yes? The Cold Shoulder, Name Calling, Harsh Critique – all members of the Mean Species. And we’ve all been both givers and receivers of Meanness, admit it.(I certainly have.) Both feel terrible. The thing about meanness is, it catches us off guard because it stings. A dose of terribleness is issued; we are hurt; we lose our cool – we lose our ‘center’ – and we sting back. Thus, a fight is fed. Fertilized. So here’s the thing. In order to get through any fight, namely: DIFFUSE any fight, we need to reduce the sting of meanness. How to reduce the sting? Be an observer. Be impartial. Be a Scientist!
Study your own relationship: The things your honey just yelled – or didn’t yell (the cold shoulder!) – these are all behaviors informed by a lifetime of beliefs and frustrations. Fears and judgments that came along LONG before you two even met. (Even though he said it’s your nagging that’s driving him nuts. Ignore this.) Engaging in the Meanness – when you sting back – this is like jumping into a flowering bush to tell the bees they’re stupid and doing it all wrong. Dangerous….. The bees are doing their best, based on what they know. So is your beloved. A scientist might conclude: once in the path of a bee, the sting it issued did pinch. Swelling followed. Likewise with your mate – when the time is right (after a walk) ….inform her/him of your experience: “When you called me a Pompous Jerk for being late, I felt hurt because I was buying you a Valentine’s card.” –But no meanness please; not good science.
4. Go For A Walk
Have I mentioned that going for a walk is VERY helpful?
Alone, by the way. In the middle of a fight, go for a walk alone. (Maximum walk time: 1 hr. After this, you’ve entered into Passive Aggressive Meanness.
5. Make A List Of Why Your Partner Is Great
(You might need to go for a walk first.)
I admit, this last fight-survival-technique falls somewhat under category #2: Do or Say the opposite of whatever you’re doing or saying (and likely feeling). And yes, I considered urging you to “Make a ‘Partner’s Pros and Cons’ list. However – in the state of mind you’re in – your challenge most definitely lies in the ‘Pros’ part of this exercise. The ‘Cons’ at this moment are already feeling clear as day. So why not cut right to the chase: Rise to the Occasion. Face the Music. And if you please, I’d like to make two requests of you here: 1) Please allow this category to stand on its own; it deserves its own category and 2) Please apply this category to yourself. That’s right: Please make an additional list of Why You Are Great.
So – after your walk – sit down and write out the reasons you like your partner. This will do a few things for you. Your list will allow you to balance your feelings of seething rage with reminders of why you chose this person in the first place. Right? You wanted to be with this person in the first place, remember? Think carefully and objectively. Tell yourself why this person is so great. – And allow yourself a chuckle at all that has recently transpired.
Conversely, you may find yourself stuck for list items. Sigh. This gentle scrap of paper may actually illuminate for you the fact that – well, perhaps the list has dwindled. This may feel sad to discover – or maybe….freeing? Now’s the perfect time to take stock because maybe, you two simply don’t match anymore. It’s a tough one, but better to take a good look NOW at what you’re doing with this person rather than continue to play out an IDEA of what you two are. I played out the ‘idea’ thing for 6 years with someone, and neither of us benefitted. Six years of fighting is exhausting. Save yourself the hassle!
Lastly, a list of great qualities your honey possesses is like an Ode to Love. As you add up the reasons you DO like your sweetie, you are engaging in what I like to call “Making Love”. Love takes work, whether you believe it or not. Love is an action; it ain’t a noun, people. (But I’m gonna say, there have to be at least 10 things on that list that you love about your mate, to get you started.) And then, yes, we all must MAKE love. Love doesn’t come already-assembled. Love is a box of IKEA parts. She is built, nurtured, fostered, cared-for, fed, (sanded and tinted?) and encouraged to be GREAT.
Like a precious child, Love gets stronger when you take active steps toward its robust health; when you believe in her. So make a petition for Love in your relationship! Each word on that list you’re writing is a signature toward success. Each attribute you write, a promise to your honey and yourself that you are capable of love; that you deserve love, that you and your honey ARE love together.
And watch the fights dwindle.