In relationships, disagreements are likely to occur; verbal altercations, misunderstandings etc., between friends, family, or colleagues at work. When this happens, how we deal with it; what we say and how we say it matters.
We need to understand that people are different; while some people are upfront and can articulately express themselves, others are shy and avoid it as best as they can. It may be because they don’t know how to express themselves. They don’t want to offend or seem confrontational or fear doing it wrong, even if they are hurt. However, it would keep recurring when you keep excusing the issue and letting it slide.
Question What can I do to avoid conflict, and what should I do to stop it from escalating if it seems inevitable? It is crucial to speak up and address the issue constructively, and on time so it doesn’t escalate. Talk to your partner or whoever you are having the issue with and encourage them to do the same. This way, you avoid tension from setting in and building up,
Why? Because healthy communication is essential when building a healthy relationship, and not addressing it the right way will only worsen things.
To adequately address an issue, you must identify the cause and focus on ways to resolve it. How we go about it is also important. For instance, when you say to a person, “you are very lazy! All you do all day is eat, sleep and be on your phone!”. You are very unhelpful!” They will feel hurt, may become defensive and angry or even withdraw from you when they feel criticised.
However, when you say to the person, “It upsets me that you don’t do any of the house chores and it would be helpful if you assisted me in doing some of it…” in the right tone and manner, you have gotten the person’s attention. They may have been oblivious to the fact that they neglected their responsibility of work to you. Constructively raising the issue opens a window where you can discuss, find common ground, and agree.
It is one thing to raise an issue and another to bring up a solution. Once you have tabled the matter, suggest solutions and be specific when stating them. You should also be open to seeing things from your partner’s perspective, understand where they are coming from, and identify opportunities for a compromise that favours you. Take turns talking and expressing your feelings; if it helps, you can write a list stating what you like or dislike and ways to move forward or a letter.
There is a difference between listening to reply and listening to understand. When you find yourself “cross-complaining”, “yes-butting”, interrupting, looking at everything except the person talking to you etc., it shows that they don’t have your attention and you don’t care what they want to say. However, when you let them speak without interrupting, maintain relaxed eye contact, answer questions that need a reply, ask open-ended questions and paraphrase what they said for clarity and try to understand where they are coming from with empathy, you show you care, accept, respect them, and you are willing to improve the relationship.
The best way to respond to negative behaviour, whether sarcasm, anger, name-calling etc., isn’t negative behaviour but reciprocating it with a warm calmness or humour to reduce the tension.
Sometimes arguments can take an unexpected turn and become heated. In that regard, it is expedient that you maintain calm before either of you says or does something that you may regret and give each other some space to cool off.
You could say:
“At this moment, I don’t think I’m doing justice to this conversation. So I am going to cool off, and we could talk about it when I come back if you would like.”
“This isn’t going anywhere. Let’s tap out before we both say some things we will regret.”
“Look, I am going out for some fresh air; otherwise, I will regret what I say next, and I don’t want to do that. So you need not follow me and trust that I will come back.”
In situations where you find yourself exchanging some nasty comments, it is essential to offer a sincere apology, and you can say:
“You know what, an apology is important, and I admit I was wrong. I was angry; I felt attacked, and I regretted it. I am sorry.”
“I feel terrible about the things I said, that was insensitive of me, and I wish I had been more thoughtful to your feelings and listened more; I am sorry. Is there anything I can do to make up for what I’ve done?”
“You have every right to be angry and upset with me. I know we talked about this before, and I made a mess of things. I am sorry.”
Even though arguments and misunderstandings are characteristic and sometimes improve relationships, constant arguments can be very exhausting and take a toll on your mental health and overall well-being. If you can’t be yourself or express yourself without fear of retaliation, you may be experiencing abuse. So, again, I suggest you see a professional.