How to diffuse arguments, in love

Love isn't always rosy. Last night we had an argument in the car. It was the kind of husband-wife “discussion” that began with a few assuming blanket statements, continued with escalating volume, and ended in ugly, shoulder-shrugging tears and seated, 4-year-old foot-stomping. Since sobbing and yelling at each other inside a grocery store aren’t generally acceptable public displays of affection, we called off the rest of our evening and promptly stormed back into our apartment to “finish the discussion.” Thankfully this isn’t a common occurrence in our relationship, but it does happen from time to time.

Once we had calmed ourselves and were both ready and willing to discuss how we had arrived at this point and how we could prevent it in the future, we actually had an insightful chat. We realized that 100% of our arguments happen because we are terrible mind-readers. When I act on something because I think it’s what Chad wants me to do, but Chad has a different set of expectations for me, it ends in disagreement—and vice versa. We’re two different people with two different minds, so we should not be surprised when we have different ideas on how something should work. The solution? Communicate to one another what our actual expectations are, so that we don’t have to mind-read. (I know, this is deep stuff…)

Assuming we’re not the only couple in the world who fights (Lord, please tell me we’re not the only ones!), I figured I’d talk about our process of how we diffuse arguments like this in case it might help you in similar situations in the future.

1. The outbreak of an argument:
Like it or not, we all have feelings. Feelings are rarely tied to logic, but they are tethered to the heart. We’ve learned over the years that instead of trying to cage up our feelings or try to explain them to one another, we need to just let them out every now and then so we can sit back and observe them. (This is especially hard for all the Spocks out there, myself included. Embrace your inner Captain Kirk when dealing with emotions.) This portion of the argument MUST happen in an agreed-upon safe place, though. It needs to be controlled physically in neutral territory and emotionally in a non-judgement and non-interruption zone. For example, our dining room table is usually this space and sometimes we go as far as scheduling a later time to meet back there when we’re both calm and collected.

2. Diffusing the argument:
At our very core we love one another, so we know that feelings as a result of a circumstances are never out of malice or a hateful spirit to hurt the other—so we just skip that blame game part and dive into discovering the root of the emotion. For example, “When you say you do EVERYthing around here, I know you don’t actually think I sit motionless for days on end taking small breaks to breathe, so let’s figure out what your expectations of our task list are so we can compare to my task list expectations and see where they are different.”

3. Solving the argument:
Not every disagreement can be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow, but every time we discover the root of the issue, we do our best to come up with a solution that is fair to both of us. Compromise is key—and it’s easier to swallow when you can fully understand what you’re each thinking and how it makes you both feel. If you love one another, you’ll desire a solution that respects your partner and also that makes you happy. For example, Chad is task list-driven, while lengthy lists overwhelm me and defeat me. But if I don’t know what is on Chad’s task list, I’ll never be able to meet his expectations of completing that list. For us, we decided to try a digital shared task list (we love Wunderlist!) that we talk through together and collaborate to check items off daily. In Chad’s view of the app, he sees everything. In my view of the app, I only see the items for that day, or that category. It has made our expectations of each other so much more clear and we can now find joy in accomplishing things as a team.

Inevitably, arguments and disagreements will happen, but next time you see one coming, dive past illogical outbursts to reveal the heart issue. Then work together as a team to come up with solutions to avoid hurt feelings or similar situations in the future. Like I mentioned in my last post, love is a choice. And like I was reminded through our own escalated situation last night, love takes work. You can do this, but only if you work together.