When my husband and I were in the early stages of our marriage, his ex-wife dropped a custody battle on our front doorstep.
The stress and anxiety of that time doubled down on my health issues.
Needless to say, we were not strangers to having important and critical conversations.
It took some time – because we were less than 1 year into marriage – to figure out how to have these conversations and avoid fighting or hurt feelings.
Everyone knows the first few years of marriage are a learning game. We had the added pressure of being a non-nuclear family and me having chronic health issues.
But all that being said, we did figure out how to talk about the hard stuff with a bit of practice.
And we are stronger for it.
Below you’ll find a list of tips for keeping calm and keeping your partner calm. And these are not just for romantic relationships. Any relationship worth its salt will end up with things that need to be talked about.
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A book that will change your life
Before you get to the nitty-gritty of how to avoid unnecessary confrontation, you need to know about the book Crucial Conversations.
It gives you step-by-step tips on how to avoid break downs in dialogue when people are passionate about what they’re discussing.
I read it several times as a manager in a high-pressure government office. But it is not just for the professional setting.
I’m not usually a self-help book type person. But this book is different. It doesn’t just give you the big picture, but the intricate details of how to go about having ‘crucial conversations.’
But now the sales-y sounding pitch is done, I’ll move on to the good stuff.
“Dos” for avoiding fights when having important discussions
Know what you want to accomplish
If you go into a heavy discussion wanting an argument, I guarantee you’ll get it. If you’re wanting to disagree, point fingers, and accomplish nothing, that’s pretty easy to do.
But if you want to fix a problem through communication, you can.
Spend time before any major discussion figuring out what your goals are. Know if you want an apology, understanding, or acceptance. Is this relationship -romantic or not – one you want to foster and grow? Or are you okay with ending it?
No matter what, make sure you have an answer to the question, “what do you want from me” AND “what do I want to happen.”
Use “I” statements
Imagine your response to these two statements in the middle of an important discussion:
A) “You are being unreasonable because you aren’t listening.”
B) “I believe you didn’t understand what I said.”
One of these is going to throw flames on the fire while the other one fosters discussion.
People are much more reseptive to feedback when it doesn’t sound like an accusation. The best way to do that is watch your phrasing. Instead of “You did” try “I noticed”.
For example, “I noticed you didn’t put your socks in the hamper” is a lot more likely to achieve results than “You never clean up after yourself.”
Block out preconceived notions
The old adage goes, ‘assuming makes an ass of u and me.’
Don’t assume the discussion is going to result in the worst case scenario.
Don’t assume you know how someone is going to react to what you have to say.
If you are gearing up for a fight because you believe your partner is going to respond poorly, you’re going to get a fight.
Be open to the possibility that someone is going to be more accepting than you think. Or that some good could come from a difficult situation.
It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the worst, but don’t expect it.
Understand fight or flight feelings
Fight or flight is a tricky little sucker that is going to make you act a little crazy.
It’s the part of our nervous system that makes us attack or run when we think we’re in danger.
When it comes to difficult conversations, it might make us want to fight back, or take off, when there is even a hint the other person might be a danger to our mental well-being.
When you’re in the middle of a conversation, be aware that your brain might be sending these signals when they’re not necessary. Try to isolate what is real and what is a chemical response.
If you let ‘fight or flight’ take over, you can guarantee you will not make your best decisions.
Focus on one thing at a time.
Sure, you can bring up other issues or topics, but you’re likely to confuse the situation.
If you want a clean and fair discussion, where it’s possible to accomplish something, stay on topic.
If it helps, you can even make notes ahead of time of what you want to discuss. You’re more likely to stay on the main topic if you have a firm grasp of what it is before talking about it.
Leave the past in the past
Similar to staying on topic, don’t drag in arguments or incidents that are long-gone.
At the very least, have a statute of limitations on how long you’re willing to make someone relive a past mistake.
The only exception to this rule is if it’s relevant and hasn’t been properly addressed. Patterns of troubling behavior, for example, are important to address.
Be Aware of the timing
Let’s be honest, if you want to talk to your husband about an issue with the kids, doing it during Sunday Night Football might not be the best idea.
If you’re exhausted from a long day at work or feeling sick, your temper might be a little shorter than if you’re well-rested and well-fed.
Going into a discussion hangry is a bad idea!
If you have the ability to pick the timing, wait until you are both in a good frame of mind. If a ‘good’ frame of mind isn’t possible, do the best you can to pick a time when you are not going to be distracted, tired, or short on time.
Conversations should be a two-way street.
If you are doing all the talking and none of the listening, you are part of the problem.
Ask questions and be open to the answer. The last thing you don’t want to railroad someone into seeing it your way. They will end up resenting you and there will be multiple losers instead of any winners.
Use thoughtful words
Leave the cussing at the door and think about what comes out of your mouth.
This ties back to the first point…know what you want to accomplish. Once you know that, you can use phrases and words that aim to accomplish that goal.
It is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Try to counter that my calming down, taking deep breaths, and thinking about where you are and what you want. This will help you use language that is appropriate for the setting.
“Don’ts” for avoiding fights when having important discussions
Don’t lie or beat around the bush
If you’ve already taken the steps of initiating the conversation, there is no point in hiding your thoughts.
Face the situation head on by being honest and forthcoming.
However, while being honest, also…
…But Be kind
It is possible to be both forward and kind.
Do this by following the advice above to use thoughtful words. At the end of the day, you want to be able to sleep at night knowing you were not unecessarily rude or unkind.
I have seen many examples of women who mistake being rude to being strong.
For clarification BEING RUDE DOES NOT EQUAL BEING STRONG.
You can be strong and stand up for yourself without bringing yourself down to other’s level.
Just do what I do…practice telling people to ‘go fly a kite’ while smiling and saying nice words! It’s a true art form that has been lost in the world of social media. We should hold ourselves accountable for our words whether we’re face-to-face or not.
Don’t read their mind
Unless you’re dealing with a liar- in which case you have much bigger problems- take responses at face value.
You likely aren’t a mind reader. There is no reason to have a three way argument…one with yourself, one with the other person, and one with the things you THINK they’re saying.
If, after the discussion is over, they do or say something to contradict what you were told, deal with that then.
Don’t use what-ifs or imaginary situations
One day the sky was grey in Colorado so obviously there will be a tsunami in the South Pacific.
Just as this logic is not going to benefit anyone, neither is bringing imaginary or made up situations into your discussion.
Try to discuss actual actions with actual consequences.
Because you can’t hold someone accountable to actions they did not take. Or consequences that don’t exist.
Bringing it all together
If every conversation turns in to an argument, it’s probably time to evaluate what actions you’re taking during the conversation.
Sure, you might not be to blame.
But…you might be.
And if you can do your part to have peaceful conversations that accomplish goals, wouldn’t you want to?
It is possible to talk things out in any kind of relationship. It just takes word and a little practice.
And as mentioned in the beginning of this post, it is 100% worth it to check out Crucial Conversations to learn exact steps for having conversations “when the stakes are high.”
Leave a comment below to tell me your best steps for staying calm during tense conversations.
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