Many of us would agree that fighting with our partner or friend is never fun, but, unfortunately, fights are unavoidable in relationships. There are steps that we can take to lessen our anger during fights, help us solve conflicts better, and keep our relationships happy.
Fights can happen when two people have different ideas about what caused a behavior or event. For example, two young women, Anneliese and Marianna, are living together. Marianna’s mother is visiting later in the day, so she cleans their apartment carefully to impress her mother. Anneliese is stressed in the morning from thinking about her day ahead of her and leaves her dirty dishes in the sink as well as crumbs and spilled milk on the counter. Marianna comes back to the apartment later and sees the mess on the counter from Anneliese. She is sure that Anneliese did it to annoy her and that Anneliese doesn’t care about her feelings. The two roommates argued, both sure that their explanation was right and that the other was selfish.
It is important to remember that others have different thoughts about the cause of a situation. It can be tough to take someone else’s view on a situation, since we all naturally believe that our judgement about a situation is the one that is right. We also tend to view our actions more favorably and just than others who are more objective would. For example, Marianna believed that she was right in this situation. She was being the better person by cleaning up to impress a guest coming to the apartment. However, an outside observer would point out that Marianna was not thinking about what Anneliese had going on in her day and was not being understanding towards Anneliese. Additionally, our anger during an argument is increased when we believe, whether right or not, that our partner purposefully wanted to annoy or upset us, as Marianna did in the example above. Anger can make conflicts and problems harder to fix in a reasonable, fair, and logical manner.
By changing the way we think about our partner’s or friend’s behavior, we can lessen the anger we feel towards them, which can make it easier to resolve conflict. During an argument or when your partner annoys you, try to think of a neutral cause for their behavior. For example, Marianna could have done this by changing the way she thought about Anneliese’s mess. Instead of thinking that Anneliese did it on purpose, Marianna could have thought that this was just an accident and Anneliese didn’t mean to annoy her.
An activity you can do to help with your anger and your relationship is a research based trick called the “marriage hack” (Finkel, 2013). All you need to do is to write about your fights that you have with your partner or friend from the view of someone who wants the best for both people. For example, you could pretend that you were a therapist or a reporter writing about the fight. Doing this relationship hack will make you more likely to keep your relationship happy, be less angry, less depressed, less stressed, and happier overall with your life.
Finkel, E.J. (2013 May). The marriage hack. Presentation give at TEDxUChicago. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/v8fe0IkGnUk
Finkel, E.J., Slotter, E.B., Luchies, L.B., Walton, G.M., & Gross, J.J. (2013). A brief intervention to promote conflict-reappraisal preserves marital quality over time. Psychological Science, 24, 1595-1601.
Miller, R.S. (2012). Chapter 11: Conflict. In, Intimate Relationships (6th ed.) (pp. 337-361). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.