The Mental Trick That Can Immediately Stop You From Picking Fights With People You Love

Photo: RoHappy / 
blonde woman in sunglasses looking angry against red wall

Do you pick fights with the people you love?

I’m not talking about actual fistfights. Nor am I talking about people you love who may mistreat you. Rather, I’m referring to the moves you make that put distance between you and the people in your life who are loving and safe.

These moves often include things like accusing, assuming, and getting hung up on semantics. Whether you use these moves or others, these fights promote disconnection rather than strengthening your bond.

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Although it happens, disconnection is rarely your end goal. Nor do you pick fights to be mean, uncaring, or harmful to your loved one.

Most likely, you’re fighting because of something they said or did. As a result, you're left wondering: Am I understood? Am I valued? Am I safe?

When you fear the answer is no, your fight-flight-freeze response takes over — regardless of your loved one’s intentions.

Unfortunately, the human mind is quite good at creating stories that can easily rev up the fight response. Some examples are, when someone you love backslides to annoying behaviors, challenges your words, or gives you less consideration.

You might tell yourself they don’t really care about me, simply don’t respect me, or I don’t matter very much to them.

But in reality, people can backslide when they’re tired, overwhelmed, or unsure of how to maintain change.

Often, your actions can cause them to challenge what you’re talking about because they want to help you consider all your options. Also, you push them to be more considerate of others because they’re comfortable with you, and no longer act on their best behavior.

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In other words: Even when your mind thinks it’s figured people out, it's not always correct.  

That’s why the most powerful mental trick to immediately stop you from picking fights with people you love is curiosity.

By taking a curious stance, you remind yourself that you don’t actually know what’s going through anyone’s mind or heart.

Curiosity helps you understand the people you love rather than hooking into the unhelpful stories that rev up your fight response.  

When practicing curiosity, keep in mind the following three tips:

1. Don’t ask defensive questions.

For example, 'Why do you do that?' Doing so will only make the other person put their guard up with you.

2. Describe what you’re noticing.

 ask what’s going on for them. For example, 'Lately, you’ve spent much more time with your friends than me. Can you help me understand what that’s about for you?'

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3. Be curious about yourself too.

Ask yourself: 

  • Do I pick fights that have little to do with the here and now?
  • Do I stuff hurt feelings down, tolerate things for too long, or feel neglected?
  • Am I angry about something else and projecting it onto safe people in my life?

If you discover any of these self-sabotaging behaviors, it may be time to learn how to stay present, ask for what you want, and say no to what you don’t want.

Finally, keep in mind that although curiosity helps you better understand the people you love, it doesn’t always end with you agreeing with, approving of, or liking every last thing that your loved one does. And that’s okay. Simply use curiosity to lay the foundation for better communication so you both feel more understood, valued, and safe. 

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Amanda Savage Brown is a licensed psychotherapist that specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. She helps adult women live with mindful self-acceptance and self-guided change.