And, for the most part, we’re really trying to learn and use the healthiest conflict management methods, those that are most effective in resolving differences and strengthening our relationship.
And we’re getting pretty good at these strategies, right? With only occasional exceptions, we introduce our concerns using a soft start-up, favor “I” over “You” statements, and ask for a time-out if we need to self-sooth to keep from biting our partner’s head off. Yay, us!
But, hey, what about those exceptions? What about the times we forget to be respectful, or are just a little too tired or overwhelmed, thank-you-very-much, to stick to the effing communication script? What about when the conversation takes a wrong turn and we end up in a fight? What do we do then?
A fight is not the end of the world, or even the end of your relationship. When two people live in close proximity to each other, sharing bathrooms, beds and opinions, there will be conflict, and some of these conflicts will blow up into fights. It happens.
Second, ask your partner for a “do-over.” But not the kind of do-over you remember from elementary recess, in which you re-serve the volleyball and it STILL ends up in the street. No, this do-over is more of a reprocessing than a rehashing, a time to put aside the content of the argument for a while in favor of focusing on the communication process that went awry.
This do-over requires a team approach in which you both work together to complete the following three steps:
1. Take Stock. Think long and hard about what happened, paying particular attention to your contribution to the mess. Look for the mistakes you made, and the ways in which how you listened or didn’t, or how you spoke or looked or worded your argument, helped lead you both from productive conflict management to an unproductive fight. Then apologize to your partner for all of the above.
2. Forgive. Forgive your partner for their contribution to the confabulation. They, like you, are only human. They too have triggers, bad days and moments of losing their minds. Accept their apology and move along.
3. Plan to do better next time. Come together and use what you’ve learned above to plan ahead for the next conflict (because there will definitely be one!). Make a mental, or written, list of the triggers that got you each off track, the strategies you each forgot to use. Make a plan to try harder and listen better. And remember – there was a conversation in there somewhere before it became a fight. Make it your goal to eventually get back to that.
It’s truly the nature of the cohabitating beast to share different opinions and, at times, to find ourselves in conflict over them. And our first goal should always be to do our best to engage these conflicts in a healthy, relationship-sustaining way so that we can avoid the fallout from an unhealthy fight.
But when we falter at this and the conversation turns more adversarial, the resulting fight doesn’t have to define our relationship. As this Gottman Relationship Blog post confirms, we can take stock, forgive and make a plan for the future. We can have a do-over.
Now, I just wish volleyball were that easy.