Stop Escalating the Fight |

3 min read

The problem with most arguments is not that they are arguments, but that they escalate into real fights that have the potential to destroy the relationship. In every relationship, we can expect that there will be disagreements, arguments, and disappointments. But when these escalate, one or both parties begin to say and do things that are hurtful, damaging, and out of control—that is the problem.

We know that the best relationships are between those who know how to resolve an argument or disagreement relatively quickly. A remedy can be created when one party makes a funny comment in the middle of the fray; and yes, this does seem to de-escalate the conflict quickly. However, the two parties might need to come back to the subject later with calmer minds to arrive at an equitable resolution. We don’t want to leave the unresolved issue hanging in the air, it will only resurface later.

Source: Image by Andrea Mathews

Source: Image by Andrea Mathews

But in most relationships, there is a fundamental issue that comes up again and again in different scenarios, in which hot buttons are pushed and one or both partners go off on each other. Some people call these triggers, but they are generally issues within one or both partners that started long before the relationship in question ever came into being. The question, “Am I loved” or “Am I lovable,” can be a hot button that gets pushed when one partner says or does something that communicates the other doesn’t really love or doesn’t love enough.

When there is a hot button for one partner there is often another opposite hot button for the other. In the case above, while one partner might be accusing the other of not loving or not loving enough, the accused might have a hot button about not being accused of something s/he did not do.

We are off and running—with both partners blaming the other. These arguments often escalate into fights because both partners are blinded by the hot-button issue. The most difficult part of this blindness is the tendency for both partners to say, “Yeah, but you… What you did is worse than what I did. And I can’t look at me because I’m too busy looking at you.” These fights can continue to escalate into verbal or even physical abuse.

Changing one word can help.
Change “Yeah but you…”
Into “Yeah but I…”

One word can quickly de-escalate the conflict. “Yeah, but I…” says, “I can take responsibility for my feelings, my thoughts, and my hot buttons.” This communicates to the partner, “When you do that my hot button goes off and I see red. I’m going to work on my hot button.” It also communicates: “I’m going to stop trying to work on you and start working on my own history and the origin of my hot button.” If I have a belief that I am not lovable or have never been loved, I might need, for example, to go to therapy and work on that problem, rather than projecting it onto you. Then whenever it comes up I can ask for reassurance from you that I am loved and I can continue to work on my issue, instead of escalating a fight that will never be won.

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