If you’ve been bickering with your partner more than usual in quarantine, you might be in search of new strategies to keep tensions from escalating. After all, you’re spending a lot more time together now, and certain issues that were formerly NBD are now, well, a BD. To that end, it bears mentioning that relationship therapists themselves are bound to disagree with their partners—both in and out of isolation—simply by virtue of being human. That means they’ve also had to learn firsthand how to solve relationship arguments. So why not learn go-to strategies that the pros use at home, in their own lives?
Relationship and sex therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD, for one, is quick to admit she’s noticed an increase in fights that she’s gotten into with her spouse during this high-stress time in isolation. But even though Dr. Nelson and her husband may be navigating the same common quarantine arguments as the rest of us, they’ve been able to try new strategies for troubleshooting, learning from their disagreements, and moving on. Below, learn four tips Dr. Nelson personally uses to solve relationship arguments…during a pandemic, or otherwise.
4 tips for how to solve relationship arguments, just like a relationship therapist would.
1. Don’t run away from the argument
Be mindful of not stonewalling others or leaving in the middle of an argument—even if the only place you could actually escape to right now, while sheltering in place in a studio apartment, is the bathroom. To that end, Dr. Nelson has found that in some respects, quarantine circumstance can be understood as a positive reinforcement for learning how to solve relationship arguments instead of leaving lingering tension in the air for later.
“We don’t walk away anymore,” says Dr. Nelson. “I’m notorious for walking away when I can’t take it anymore, which drives him crazy. Now, I try to stay in it, and talk through it. It’s easier for us to resolve it when we can make it through to the other side.”
2. Let yourself cool off, but communicate it
While it’s best to address the argument head-on and in real time, sometimes when things get heated, a cooling-off period is helpful for everyone involved. Being able to gather our thoughts can save us from saying something hurtful we don’t actually mean. And sometimes, Dr. Nelson points out, the reason we turn feral on our partners because we don’t have the space we need.
“If there are too many ‘hot’ feelings, it’s sometimes better to take a short time out, walk around the block, get a breath of air, count to 10, and cool down,” says Dr. Nelson. “When I have some space from the emotions and I can get away from his face, which is angering me at the moment, it feels better, and I feel more sane.” The trick is to communicate your desire to take a beat and that you plan to work through the situation, together, once you cool down.
3. Steer clear of reintroducing previous arguments
You know what’s extremely unhelpful in your pursuit of extinguishing the flames of a new argument? Stoking that fire with kindling from a previous disagreement. Keep your discussion focused to the matter at hand, so your would-be resolution doesn’t spiral into a full-on wildfire.
“There’s nothing worse than bringing in everything that’s ever happened between us when we’re arguing about who’s making dinner. It’s important to keep the argument on the topic we’re fighting about.” —therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD
“It’s important to keep the argument on the topic we are fighting about,” says Dr. Nelson. “There’s nothing worse than bringing in everything that’s ever happened between us when we are simply arguing about who’s going to make dinner. I’m hungry, he’s not. I was expecting him to cook, since I worked all day and he sat in front of CNN obsessing about the state of the world. Now we’re arguing about every meal we’ve ever had—or haven’t had—and now no one’s eating.”
Obviously, a scenario like that one Dr. Nelson lays out is not productive, and when you retain focus, you’re able to resolve the argument quicker.
4. Put in perspective what actually matters
A lot of heavy, distressing news is circulating, which is hitting us at all angles, compromising our moods and dispositions, and general reactions. While this time of crisis could be a wakeup call about the long-term health potential of your relationship, plenty of solid unions are just getting riled up by the stress of unprecedented times. Because of this, Dr. Nelson recommends you take a step back to look for perspective before responding to anything regarding your relationship in a rash way. For instance, she notes that most of her arguments with her spouse are over petty issues, and it helps her to remember that.
“Someday we might have something big to fight about,” says Dr. Nelson. “But right now, today, I remind myself that he’s here, and we have the luxury of arguing with each other. There might come a time when he’s not here, or I’m not here, when one of us is sick, or worse. I try to remember to treasure these times. Even if he’s really being a pain in the ass.”
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