Most of men don’t really like to talk about their feelings. But as little as you yearn to explore the gooey center that is your emotional core, many men (and people in general) have no problem airing their grievances when something pisses them off. And that is where what starts as a teensy little argument can quickly conflagrate into relationship Armageddon.
Some experts say that any chances of fighting fair go out the window once the combatants are in the throes of a plate smashing, finger pointing, “You never loved me!”, “Well, your ass is getting fat like your mother's!” melee. It’s true, when your adrenaline is pumping, it’s hard to keep a level head—but not impossible.
For the purpose of this exercise, pretend your relationship is a car. Think of the following tips as your personal course in defensive driving, so if you do hit a patch of black ice, or are suddenly caught in a blinding storm, you’ll have some chance of correcting your trajectory and keeping your relationship from a total crash and burn.
Rules of Engagement
1. Perform a self-diagnostic
We all have triggers and limitations, but first and foremost, concentrate on yours. This is something you should do before your "check engine" light comes on and the smell of burning oil singes your nostril hairs.
Think for a moment about what sets you off. Is there something she says and does—or doesn't do—that makes you angry or, even worse, resentful? There’s nothing wrong with anger, but if you can figure out the “why” of what grinds your gears, you may be able to find a way to grease them so your engine doesn’t seize up. In the same vein, a circuit can only take so much current before it blows. To diminish possibly irreparable damage to your relationship, find a way to cut the juice to the offending trigger before you blow a fuse.
Ultimately, a great deal of anger response is learned behavior. You can’t control or change another person's behavior; you can only change yours. Sometimes if you can get to the root of why something gets to you so much, you can let go of it. But depending on the severity of what's upsetting you, it might not be that simple, and could become a deal-breaker.
2. Leave “you” out of it
According to Veronica Monet, ACS, CAM, couples’ consultant, author of Where Sex and Spirit Come Together and host of the radio program The Shame Free Zone, many couples get into trouble by trying to “correct” their partner’s behavior. Conversations that begin with phrases such as: “You always...” or “You never...” or “I don’t like it when you...” can lead to hot water.
“The use of the word ‘you’ can be very triggering for most people,” Monet explains, “because it’s so often associated with criticism. A more successful strategy is to begin your sentences with the word ‘I.’ For instance, by saying, ‘I am unhappy,’ you can create a connection which will make them feel safer and less defensive." She continues, "By taking responsibility for your feelings, your partner is enabled to show compassion ... If something serious is at play and needs to be addressed, at least you’ll be in a much more stable position to discuss issues and find solutions to them as a team.”
3. Fight about what you’re fighting about.
If your girlfriend has said/done/not done something that’s triggered your anger response, that’s what you should be fighting about. If, instead of facing the issue, you drag a lot of irrelevant crap into the mix, she’s not going to know what you’re going off about and you’re not going to get it resolved. You might be tempted to criticize her about something she's wearing just because you're already angry at her about something larger. Resist the urge. All that accomplishes is diminishing your argument about the larger issue by making you seem irrational.
4. Know the rules
Here's one of the few times you can take a page from the S & M handbook when it comes to your relationship (unless you're into that, and hey, to each their own). In the realm of sadists and masochists, behavior is negotiated, not only in advance, but in specific detail so that no one gets hurt in a way they are not prepared for. While you probably can't establish "safe words" for fighting—although, in theory, that's not a bad idea—make sure your definitions, especially when it comes to boundaries, are the same as hers.
For example: cheating. If you define cheating one way and she defines it another, that’s a recipe for trouble with a capital “T.” Obviously, you may not have a chance to pre-negotiate everything—even some of the big stuff—in your relationship before you end up fighting, but being proactive and preemptive can save both of you heartache down the road.
And say you do have a fight about “fill in the blank.” After it’s over and tempers have cooled, take it back to the table and negotiate so, whether you can agree or not, at least you both know where you stand.
5. Violence is never an option
Not even if you’re Bruce Willis and you have to save the planet, because let’s face it, you’re not and you don’t. (This goes for her, too.)
6. Fighting, like driving...
It's not to be undertaken while impaired. This should be self-explanatory. Getting tanked up and getting behind the wheel of an argument is extremely dangerous, and frankly, it’s just plain stupid. Also to be avoided is fighting while running on fumes, and by that we mean under the undue influence of outside stress, illness or sleep deprivation. The common denominator for all of these factors is that when you’re impaired, you have no filters. Not only will whatever horse manure that pops into your head instantly come spewing from your mouth, you’re more easily irked, less able to avoid obstacles in your path, and likely to find yourself wrapped around a tree.