You’ve heard the old adage – never walk away from a fight. Or, never do to bed angry. Both of these imply that if you are in a relationship and having a disagreement, you both must pound the dead horse of a fight to it’s very messy and exhausting death. I am here to tell you that it’s ok to walk away. In fact, it’s much better to walk away from an argument that’s escalated beyond any productive outcome. But, you MUST follow these rules: 1. You have to tell your partner that your relationship is important to you, that they are important to you but right now, you feel overwhelmed and need some space. 2. You need to communicate that you will return to the discussion. #3 You need to actually do what you say and initiate the conversation again later (yes, this is even true, especially true, if you are being nice and friendly to each other later). Here’s why all these things are important. First, we know that when couples argue and one or both of them get so worked up that their heart rate reaches a certain beats per minute, the ability for their brain to function in a productive way that is good for the couples greatly diminishes (Gottman, J. 1999). The overwhelmed partner must communicate this to their partner by saying something like “I love you and I am sad that we are arguing (#1). I need a break from our fight. Let’s talk about it later tonight after the kids go to sleep (#2).” The very act of initiating the conversation again later let’s your partner know that they can count on you. That you do what you say. This contributes to the very foundation of a great relationship – the trust and friendship component. When you do take a time out from the argument, DO NOT take the opportunity to replay in your mind over and over again all the ways that you have been wronged and all of the negative qualities of your partner. Find a way to calm yourself down and bring your mind (and your heart rate) to a more peaceful place. I like to cook or go for a walk or take and bath and listen to music.
When you do initiate the discussion again later, do it differently this time. Clearly, what you were doing earlier wasn’t helping. Simply restating your opinion over again or in a louder voice is only going to make things worse. Instead, do something different. Actually listen to your partner and ask questions. Note: this does not have to mean you agree with them, I promise. Just simply listening to their perspective and being curious about their view feelings (without giving your counter-argument at that time) is very restorative. Again, and I must say this one more time because this seems to be very hard to grasp – and very hard to do – listening does not mean you have to agree. For example, if your husband is upset at how much money you spent out shopping and you have had many heated battles about money that have gotten nowhere. Simply let him speak his peace without giving your viewpoint (this will be hard, especially if there is criticism involved), however being defensive about your spending will only make the situation worse. Instead, ask him questions about his views on money, spending, the budget, etc. Any time that you can, validate his feelings. Even if it’s as simple as saying something like: “it sounds like you are worried about how much money I spend.” See here that you are not AGREEING
with him (about the amount of money you spend being through the roof), you are simply validating his feeling. This is very different from agreeing the statement. You are simply communicating that you hear him. By changing the way you approach issues and respond to them, you change the “feel” of your relationship. Small changes can have huge impact. When one of you finally feels heard and the other can tolerate what they are hearing, real change can happen. I guarantee that if you tweak a few things in your relationship for the better (especially during an agreement), you will see the ripple effects of that in all aspects of your love life.