Physiologically, the adrenaline rush and physiological changes that occur when we are attacking or being attacked (emotionally, intellectually, or physically) make creative, sophisticated thought rather difficult. If you are feeling super emotional, angry, or defensive—or if you know on some level you’re being a little irrational—stop yourself and take a break.
DON’T: Go off into some corner to sulk or plot out your winning arguments. (I’ve been known to jot down key bullet points to make my argument air-tight. This is not a good way to reduce the adrenaline coursing through my veins.)
DO: Agree on a time to revisit the discussion later when you (and your partner) are feeling more calm. Then go for a walk or do something that will help you relax and feel more centered.
3) Accept Your Partner’s Influence
This is how you go from being a complainer to being a problem solver. The key here is not to counter everything your partner says, but instead to demonstrate empathy.
Your spouse (or ex-spouse, or whomever) is not your opponent; you are partners in solving a common problem. Remember your common goals—e.g., to live in a relatively clean household, to raise happy kids, to have a stable and fulfilling relationship. To solve your common problem, you’ll both need to make an effort to meet the other person’s needs. To do that, you’ll need to accept their influence.
DO: Agree on at least some points that the other person is making. Perhaps you agree that, yes, you are able to clean up the dinner dishes more quickly.
DON’T: Continue to pursue the issue after an apology has been made and solution proposed.
For example, if your spouse says, “I’m sorry, honey. You’re right, it isn’t fair that you’re doing all the work. I’m going to help you tomorrow,” one subtle way of accepting influence is simply to accept an apology: “Thank you for your apology. I’d really appreciate it if you could help tomorrow.”
I know this tip seems obvious, but when we are feeling emotional, a quick resolution can feel anti-climactic. Don’t stir the pot by reminding your spouse AGAIN how they haven’t been carrying their weight, or retorting, “Yah, well, you don’t seem that sorry.”
Remember, that while we might start by plotting to “pick a fight,” we need to end by coming up with solutions, working until we feel that there is a good-enough solution we are both willing to try. One line I find particularly effective for those recurring, cyclical conflicts: “Thanks for your apology. What solutions can we think of together so that this doesn’t happen so often?”
What fight have you recently found yourself starting? How will you approach the problem in the future?
This article originally appeared in Greater Good.