1. Avoid finger pointing
Whether we realize it or not, we all develop a tone of voice that's only heard when we're put on the defensive in an argument. Try to avoid any tone that might convey criticism or that might make what you're saying sound like a put-down. The same thing goes for finger pointing and blaming. Choose your words carefully and avoid making judgments or attacking your partner personally.
"When someone feels attacked and the boiling point keeps rising, they will naturally get defensive," says Gauthier. "They're like a porcupine -- the prickly quills come up and quality dialogue slips away." To prevent reaching this boiling point, Gauthier advocates using neutral language. Instead of saying "You always..." or "You never..." try using more neutral language, such as: "When this happens, I feel...." Owning your feelings makes the conversation less threatening to the other person. Neutral language puts the emphasis on your feelings rather than on the perceived wrongdoing of the individual.
2. Take measures to remain calm
"When a situation becomes charged, it displaces our ability to communicate effectively," says Gauthier. "To diffuse that charge, just take a time-out." Remain calm, and count backward from 20 before you speak again. Taking a moment to pause will help you stay collected and will also prevent you from saying anything you might regret in the heat of the moment. Be sure to listen to what your partner is saying, and use the same 20-count before responding. This will also prevent you from interrupting your partner, a surefire way to escalate an argument in a hurry.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to keep heated arguments at bay and how to approach problems with your partner on page 2
3. Don't stomp, slam or sulk
"The moment the framework of communication collapses, people cycle back to those old patterns and it's not productive for the relationship," says Gauthier. "At the end of the day, the goal is for the relationship to be moving in a positive direction." So, ignore the voice in your head that wants to stomp, slam or sulk.
Resolve to stay in the conversation and to try to really listen -- and if you don't feel like the conversation is resolving anything or that you need some time alone, simply request a break. Never leave your partner hanging mid-discussion or try to play the power struggle game making them physically chase you in order to be heard. "Feeling like your needs aren't being met in a relationship can be a paralyzing place to be, so maybe a healthy framework for you as a couple means involving an impartial third party, such as a counsellor."
4. Remember that timing is everything
Never start a heated discussion about touchy topics after 9 p.m. Fatigue can be the fuel to any fiery fight. You're both more likely to be irrational and, ironically, you'll end up losing more sleep because you'll have become agitated right before trying to hit the hay. "Don't wait until the heat of the moment. Choose a time when you can talk in private and when there are no emotionally charged issues on the table," says Gauthier.
Instead of getting wound up when you're supposed to be winding down, acknowledge to your partner that you understand how important the issue is and suggest that the chat be postponed until the following day when you can devote quality time to the discussion. "Set aside time once a week -- a space for discussion that doesn't necessarily have to be negative," says Gauthier. "It's a time to bring things to the table that you'd both like to talk about."
By making time and creating a calm space to rationally discuss your needs and feelings, you'll reach a deeper understanding of how you operate as individuals. The good news is, a deeper understanding of one another's needs will allow you to function better as a couple. "Ninety-five per cent of our behaviour and emotions are driven by our subconscious," says Gauthier. "That said, it's always possible to relearn how to communicate."
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