My friend Karen Salmansohn has written several books on happiness — The Bounce Back Book; How To Be Happy, Dammit; The Seven Lively Sins. Her new book, Prince Harming Syndrome, gives love advice by combining Aristotle’s philosophy and modern cognitive therapy, with a kind of post-Sex and the City edge.
Her book covers a lot of ground about how to find “Prince Charming” instead of “Prince Harming,” but whether you’re in a new relationship or a settled relationship, or a man or a woman, it has a great list of suggestions about how to fight right.
Fight right is one of my own happiness-project resolutions. All couples fight; the secret is to fight right so that conflict doesn’t damage your relationship. I’ve written about phrases to use during a fight, to fight right, and Karen has suggestions about how to behave to keep a fight from escalating into ugliness.
Here are Karen’s suggestions:
1. Pick the right time and place so you can speak openly and without interruption. [Important additional benefit: when I wait to bring up an argument with my husband, I often decide that we don’t need to have it. Like when I was furious about the fact that he'd thrown away a magazine before I'd read it. The next morning, I decided it wasn't such a big deal.]
2. Avoid harsh start-ups. As the first three minutes go, so goes the entire conversation. Stay calm and warm.
3. Don’t try to prove that you’re right. Show that you understand your partner’s point of view.
4. Although studies show that yelling is better than stonewalling, yelling makes it hard to fight right. Yelling doesn’t relieve angry feelings, it inflames them. Act the way you want to feel.
5. Be specific about what exactly upset you, and don’t fall into generalizations like “You always…” “You never…”
6. View anger as a misdirected plea for love. Your partner is upset because he or she feels that something you said or did showed a lack of love. Viewing the problem through this lens can help you feeling more loving.
7. Name the exact emotion you feel. Angry, resentful, hurt, embarrassed, humiliated, vulnerable, afraid, up-tight, depressed? Just the act of observing the fact that you’re feeling a negative emotion helps you calm you. [I think this is also useful because it forces you to identify what’s really upsetting you. Often we’re not honest with ourselves. I often act angry when my feelings are hurt.]
8. If you keep interrupting each other, give each partner a ten-minute block of time to talk.
9. Watch your body language. Crossing your arms or sneering isn’t helpful. Studies show that it helps to hold each other’s hands while having a difficult conversation. Or if holding hands seems a little precious during a fight, just touch the other person, sit right next to him or her, etc.
10. Close a difficult conversation by talking about happy memories or qualities you love about your partner.
From my own experience, I’d say that the easiest step to remember and put into practice is #9. Staying in physical contact during a fight makes it a lot easier to stay warm and calm.
What other strategies have you found to help yourself fight right with your sweetheart?
* It’s that time again! What time? Time to mention that my book is available for pre-order.