There are so many things I wish I did better when it comes to how to handle relationship fights. Particularly in my marriage and as a parent. It's so much easier and selfishly gratifying in the moment to fly off the handle and say *exactly* what I think my husband or my children need to hear.
That is rarely (never?) the right solution. And I definitely never feel better after I snap.
How many times have I let my emotions, fatigue, frustration, or insecurity get the better of me and shot my mouth off instead of trying to solve the problem while adding value to the relationship?
Relationship fights in our marriage (and being a naggy parent) are always a bad-math sum of anger and ego. We both tend to step back into all our old crappy communication patterns. He's pushy. I'm a martyr. In the heat of the moment, neither one of us listen or really care about the other person's feelings. We end up saying things we regret and making a lingering mess out of what could have been a simple, intentional, solution-focused conversation.
Related: Curb your ego for a happier marriage
So if I can keep my adrenaline at bay for even 5 hot seconds when a misunderstanding arises, here are 10 things that are better to say than picking those relationship fights.
10. It hurts my feelings when you say or do _______.
Just address the ONE thing, right then and there, or as soon as possible after it happened. Save the other 27 grievances for a time you're not steaming out the ears.
9. I need 5 minutes to regroup before we continue this conversation.
Splash your face with water, take a walk around the block, or eat a cookie. If you feel backed into a proverbial corner, pause to collect your thoughts before you say something you'll regret.
8. I felt disrespected (or embarrassed/etc.) when you ______.
This is a big one for me. Don't let it build. It is our job to teach people how to treat us. Even and especially our spouses.
7. Could we please find a time today to talk about something important?
This is our family's big cue phrase to keep relationship fights at bay. It lets the other person know we are taking a risk by saying something hard. Setting the stage for a healthy conversation always goes better for us than nuking the other one with a giant nag or complaint clear out of the blue.
6. Next time, can you _____ instead?
Use this the next time you are ready to say "you ALWAYS" or "you NEVER." If I have to unball one more set of long inside-out stinky baseball socks in my laundry I am going to lose my mind. "Next time can you please unroll these before you put them in the hamper? It helps me so much and makes me feel like you care." This is a good strategy for children too. I don't feel like a naggy wife or mom when I make a request.
5. I'm frustrated. Can you please help me?
I shut down when I'm frustrated and it's easier to bang cabinets shut and heave giant sighs instead of ask for help. My family cannot read minds. And clearly they do not hear the slamming or don't care. So a simple request lets them know I need them to get off the couch and lend a hand.
4. Can we please set screentime guidelines for dinner?
Solve the problem before it becomes a problem. And it's never the kids that have the problem!!! It's so easy to slide back into distractions at the dinner table. We regroup when we need to in order to get the devices off and away from that sacred space. I'm a better wife and mom when I don't feel like I'm begging for my family's attention.
3. I have a budget question when you have a minute.
ALWAYS better than "why did you buy that?????!!!!!" Money questions can feel accusatory to me, no matter the context, so this is another area where it helps to have a phrase cue that we need to talk about it. I'm not as defensive that way and the conversation always goes a little smoother.
2. Can I borrow you for 30 uninterrupted minutes tonight?
Doesn't matter what you do, but make it worth their time. 😉
Variation on #2: I feel disconnected/lonely.
Chances are, if you've gotten into the habit of curbing screen time and borrowing each other for 30 minutes on the regular, you won't have to say this one a lot. But in the busy chaos of family life, it happens. We work across the kitchen table from each other every day and even then I still feel lonely sometimes. That's when it's time to take a walk together, or unplug for 15 minutes to actually look at each other's faces. Dial into each other's love languages and you'll only need a few minutes to connect with each other in a meaningful way.
1. Have I done something to upset you?
Ahh, the dance of the eggshells. Nobody's good at it. Just gird up your loins and ask the question. Fair warning: if you are willing to ask the question, be willing to hear (and have a real conversation about) their answer. Master the art listening... and the art of the apology.
The art of the apology
It's always good to review! A great apology combines acknowledgement, remorse, and a request for forgiveness.
I'm sorry (remorse) I _____ (acknowledge the thing you said or did that hurt them). Can you please forgive me? (request forgiveness)
A great apology does not include an expectation that the other person will instantly feel better, stop being angry, or trust you again. Every person is entitled to their own real feelings. Just because you were ready to apologize doesn't mean they have to be ready to be happy just so you don't feel uncomfortable anymore. It does put the ball in their court to forgive you, which will ultimately help them feel better faster. Forgiveness rocks. Everybody wins.
Things That Are Not Real Apologies
- Sorry. (Ugh. May as well roll your eyes when you say it.)
- I'm sorry if I made you feel ____. (deflecting responsibility)
- I'm sorry you ______ (making it their fault for being upset)
- I'm sorry. (and I'm waiting for you to quit being mad at me)
Nobody feels better when they pick a relationship fight. Send your ego walking, choose better words, and bring harmony into the "hard stuff."