How to Calm a Fight- Communication

There is a common opinion out there that being angry or being in conflict is a bad or negative thing.

Emotions are powerful signals that we are experiencing beliefs or feedback that we don’t agree with or we may feel threatened by. Experiencing threats is a normal part of life and yet we think we should be able to move through life without these feelings. If a person was coming at me with a baseball bat, I would most likely run for my life or experience a very powerful protective anger and attack with the closest object. This is the beloved “fight or flight” response. What is also natural is that we have the same response when we feel emotionally unsafe or threatened.

Family relationships have an amazing ability to provide safety, and conversely, because they are our primary attachments, also have the greatest power to create insecurity and threat as well.

Conflict can be healthy, depending on how it is handled.

John Gottman, a marriage researcher and author, developed a theory about why relationships fail and what many couples do to manage the feelings that come from perceiving a threatening situation. Gottman says that conflict is not only unavoidable but can be healthy. Successful marriages are not free from conflict. Couples that report the highest amount of satisfaction in their relationship often have very high levels of conflict but they have learned to think differently about the conflict and not to feel as threatened and, in turn, have healthy repairs.

So, while conflict is not the enemy, tools to help us manage the escalation of conflict can be very helpful in relationships. Gottman says that “The way a couple ends a fight is a telling indicator of the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage.”

He has described 15 tips to calm a fight.

“Please say that more gently.”

“That felt like an insult.”

Open your arms to invite your spouse in to be held.

“Just listen to me right now and try to understand.”

“Can you kiss me?”

“Can we take a break?”
(Time outs for de-escalation are very important)

“Let me try again.”

Expressing love can help calm a conflict.

“How can I make things better?”

“I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

“I agree with part of what you are saying.”

Reach out your hand and gently touch theirs.

“One thing I admire about you is…”

“We are getting off track.”

“That’s a good point.”

“I love you.”

Good communication is a skill. Like all skills, we need to learn, practice and give ourselves permission to make mistakes. Expecting perfection from ourselves or our partners is counterproductive to healthy relationships.

Utah Family Therapy • American Fork, Utah • 801-901-0279