The Challenge: Relationships can be either our biggest source of happiness or discontent.
The Science: Fighting risks your emotional and physical health, not to mention the relationship you cherish.
The Solution: You can build a better, happier relationship with these simple steps!
Romantic relationships can be one of the biggest contributors to our personal happiness. We all benefit from being in supportive, happy relationships. Being in a successful partnership may even contribute to a longer life expectancy.
However, when long-term relationships, and marriages in particular, take a turn for the worse, it can have a devastating effect on our well-being. In fact, according to at least one study, fighting with your partner may often increase your risk of dying young.
Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid fighting, to fight better when an argument is inevitable, and to boost your relationship’s positivity factor overall. All it takes is some extra mindfulness, a bit of compassion, and the acquisition of some easy-to-employ skills.
Don’t Fight in the First Place.
Since fighting is one of the largest contributors to relationship decline, it is worth looking into how to avoid those arguments in the first place. A great place to start is to become knowledgeable of your partner’s stress signals. These are the simple, telling signs that your partner’s system is already elevated and include things like irritability, fatigue, or becoming short-tempered. These are signs that your partner is not in a good place to engage in a difficult conversation. Avoid bringing up difficult subjects and any sort of criticism – even about small items such as forgetting to take out the trash. Now is not the time. Instead, ask to see how you can help.
Sometimes, your partner’s mood has nothing to do with you. It could just be a bad day. Offer to help and then let them be. Avoid the blame game. Research shows that Blame is the key ingredient to arguments. If you feel that you are being blamed for something unfairly, try to practice awareness and not get triggered into acting defensively. If things are getting tense, don’t resort to blaming your partner!
If you have to fight, at least be good at it.
There are many tools you can use to make sure that your fights inflict as little damage on your relationship as possible. Psychologist and fighting expert Dr. Gottman has identified four behaviors that aggravate fights and inflict maximum damage. He even calls them the ‘four horseman of the apocalypse.
What are the four behaviors? Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. While criticism and defensiveness are fairly self-explanatory, let’s get into the other two:
- Contempt is when you’re disrespectful. Behaviors include eye-rolling, sarcasm, or name-calling.
- Stonewalling is the freeze that happens when you can’t engage anymore, so you begin to ignore either your partner or the issue.
What can you do instead? First off, try out a “softened startup:” bring up the issue in a gentler way from the beginning. During an argument, you can try to “repair” the grievances you made like if your partner reaches out to you, return an embrace. After the fight’s over, check in, assess the damage, and move on.
Build a happier relationship.
What about when you’re not fighting? How do you make your relationship good all the time?
It all starts with you. The old adage that you cannot love others until you love yourself first may be true. If you practice self-compassion, you can extend it to your partner. Here are 3 ways to make yourself a better partner:
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, get enough exercise, and sleep enough. Studies show that sleep deprivation is a leading contributor to arguments.
- Pay attention. At the beginning, you want to know everything about your partner. The connection is hot. But as time wears on, it takes more of an effort to be fully present. What can you do? Start with small things, like staying off of social media when you’re together.
- Practice random acts of kindness. Remember when your partner mentioned their favorite band was coming to town? Buy some tickets. Even the smallest things, like clearing their plate after dinner, add up to a big impact.
Remember that, in addition to the day-to-day things you can do to feed your relationship, you can also incorporate trying new things with your partner. Novel experiences can be key to lasting love, so have an adventure together!
What’s the secret to mastering fights? If you have to have them in the first place, limit distasteful behavior and makeup fast! Be a better partner to avoid them at all.