If you and your spouse have been locked in combat mode for a while, it's time to make some changes! Few things are more damaging to your mood, health, and relationship than being in constant conflict. Fighting actually changes our neurochemistry and physiology, which means that the effects of a fight last far longer than the fight itself. Frequent fighting means your body stays in this altered state for longer periods of time and with each fight, the stress chemicals get higher and higher, which ironically, makes another fight more likely.
To break this fighting cycle, I'd like you to think of yourself like a scientist. I want you to think of each fight as an experiment, where you need to change only one thing each time. Each fight, change just one thing and note the results. Keep experimenting, keep observing. Pretty soon, you'll realize the "secret formula" for you and your spouse
To help you find this secret formula, here are 15 different techniques to experiment with. Please try each one and make notes about which ones work best for you. Keep what works, discard what doesn't. Share and discuss your observations with your spouse so the two of you can fine tune your approach.
1. Soften up. Be warmer, be friendlier, acknowledge what you hear that makes sense to you. People want to work with and listen to someone who acts like a teddy bear, not a prickly cactus.
2. Describe how you are feeling. Explain your perspective without judging or blaming the other person. Use emotional language and talk about feelings where appropriate. For example, say "I am hurt because I feel like I am not a priority for you."
3. Stop listening like a lawyer and preparing your defense. Instead, flip a coin (pick a number or play rock/scissors/paper) to determine who will speak first and who will listen; then switch roles after 2 minutes. While you're listening like a lawyer, you're not really listening at all. You're thinking about what argument you're going to present when it's your turn to talk. So, force yourself out of this pattern, push yourself to really listen to your spouse and try to understand his/her perspective. Listen for where you can bend and offer compromises.
4. Take frequent breaks. During each break, do something to calm yourself down. Go for a walk, listen to your favorite song, do 5 minutes of yoga, watch a relaxation video, re-read a love letter from your spouse. Do anything you like that calms you down and soothes you.
5. Try adding some structure to your arguments. Try the 5-5-3-3-2-2 + Hallmark approach. Person 1 talks for 5 minutes, while the other person listens. Then person 2, while person 1 listens, for 5 minutes. Then person 1 responds for 3 minutes, followed by person 2 for 3 minutes. Then person 1 wraps up for 2 minutes, followed by person 2 for 2 minutes. To conclude, each of you should say something loving and emotional, like something you'd write in a Hallmark card. Emotional "Hallmark" moments help soothe your partner and encourage positive changes to take place.
6. Play Let's Make A Deal. Ask for something you need in exchange for something your partner wants. For example, you might say, "Honey, I really want to go to my Mom's house for Thanskgiving this year. Let's make a deal: I'll do something you'd like if you'll come with me to Mom's. What can I do for you that will make this a good deal for both of us?" Deals should be fair and be acceptable to both partners. Don't agree to do something you'll resent.
7. Respond to anger with soothing and compassion. Have you noticed what happens when you respond to anger with anger? That's right, the situation gets even worse and uglier. So, try the opposite. try getting softer, calmer, cuddlier, warmer and offer some compassion. If your spouse is upset and yelling, get quiet and say something like, "You know, I am so sorry, I must have really hurt you....I never want to do that. How can I help you now?"
8. Take responsibility; promise improvement. Everyone has the right to their feelings, even if you don't agree or think they're seeing it wrong, they have the right to feel what they feel. So instead of trying to talk someone out of their feelings, instead, take responsibility for what you can and promise change. Maybe you disagree with 99% of what your partner is feeling, that's ok...focus on what you do agree with and take responsibility for that piece of it.
9. Actively try to soothe yourself during a fight. Earlier, I mentioned taking a break and doing something relaxing. Now, let's try to soothe ourselves during the fight without leaving the discussion. What I'd like you to do is tell yourself good things, things that soothe you and make you feel better, while you're in the argument. Think about the loving things your spouse said during your last anniversary dinner, think about the moment you knew you were in love with your spouse, assume your spouse loves you and has good intentions and isn't trying to hurt you. It's hard, I know, but you can do it....practice, practice.
10. Just listen. Take a break from talking back and just focus on listening. Let the other person vent and when he/she pauses or stops, say, "Ok, I heard you, The most important thing I heard you say was ______. How can I help make that better for you?"
11. Begin softly, act with compassion. How you start a conversation is typically how you end a conversation. If you start calmly and gently, odds are, you'll end the conversation well. Start with anger and aggression, you'll end up with a hot mess. Assume that everyone does something for a reason. Assume your partner has good intentions. Strive to express empathy and compassion as often as you can in an argument.
12. Focus on yourself. When we're arguing, we tend to think our partner is being ridiculous and unreasonable and if only they'd change, things would be fine. This really isn't the case. You can't control your partner, but you can completely control yourself. Focus on changing your thoughts, your behavior, your actions, your words...not your spouse's.
13. Wave a caution flag. Often, when we are fighting, we don't realize that we've pushed someone's buttons and are making them very upset. So, help your partner know when he's triggered you by waving a caution flag, i.e., saying, "Hey, you know, you're really pushing my buttons. If you want this to be productive, I need you to not do that....."
14. Throw in "ice cubes." When the argument is getting heated, cool it down with a few "ice cubes." Ice cubes are just a few words of love, some praise or a compliment. For example, you might say, "Honey, I really do love you. We'll figure it out." Everyone responds well to genuine emotion; toss a loving ice cube into the conversation and watch it work wonders.
15. Get deep. A little secret for you: what we fight about is almost never what we're fighting about. We fight about the toothpaste, but what we're really fighting for is what the toothpaste means to us. Next time you're arguing, try asking your spouse, "Help me understand, what's really behind this for you? What does this really mean to you?" You'll be surprised by the answers! You'll learn that your leaving the toothpaste on the counter really tells your spouse that you don't care about how hard she works to keep things looking nice and clean and that you take her for granted. Going deep and asking "What does this really mean?" gets you some very interesting information.