Doing Life Together

arguing couplePlease, when you come home, would you help me with the kids? I am trying to get dinner going and need you to take them for awhile. Is that asking too much? “

It seems like the minute I walk in the door, I can’t do enough. I barely say hello and you are shouting demands at me. I know it’s a crazy time of day, but could you at least give me a moment to breathe before jumping all over me?” 

Sound familiar? We all get into with our partners. The question is, when you do, can you stay nice during an argument? You relationship might just depend on it.

When emotions run high, one of the most important things you can do is respond in a loving and soothing manner. Couples who do this usually have high trust in each other and can calm each other down. Then, they are able to have a somewhat constructive conversation.

The key is to lower the emotion that is about to boil over. When partners feel overwhelmed with emotions, conflict doesn’t go well. They get what we call flooded–unable to think and make relationship repair.

One way to lower emotion is not to criticize. Resist that temptation to let loose and try to stick with the facts.

“Honey, I need help with the kids when you come home. I feel overwhelmed and need you to take them out of my hair for about an hour”  Notice, I left out, “Is that asking too much?” 

Make your request and then assume your partner will be responsive. If he is not, then try to get his perspective before flying off the handle. Try to stay as neutral as possible and state your need. The partner needs to resist the temptation to become defensive. Maybe pause, breathe, and focus on staying calm. Once calm, try a little negotiation.

“I’m happy to help but I need about 10 minutes just to unwind, change clothes and take a breath. Does that work for you? I promise I’ll get to it and get the kids out of your way.” 

Notice that this response is not critical. Both partners stay nice during the conflict. They still are emotional, frustration is felt, but they keep that frustration from escalating and turning into criticism. They focus on their needs and try to present them in a way that doesn’t cause defensiveness.

So next time a conflict arises, remember to stay nice. Keep yourself calm, present your request in terms of what you need. Have a little faith that your partner might respond and then negotiate.


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