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  • Silvia Farag

Magic Words to Deescalate a Fight


Many times, people tell me that their spouse is "always" the one to start the fight with them. People who think that they are the hapless victim of an argumentative partner generally do not recognize their own contribution to the fighting. Generally, couples who fight often are locked into a dynamic where one is aggressive, and one is passive aggressive. The passive aggressive partner acts like a victim, but in reality, is being as dismissive and stubborn as the more flagrantly difficult partner.


This post gives you a key phrase that can end or de-escalate most fights, and if you find it hard to say, that reveals something you need to work on personally. And no, it’s not “calm down!” or “are you ok?” or worse, nothing..silence..crickets.


Most conflict arises because partners feel dismissed by each other. Generally, the partner with the more openly aggressive style will say things like, “That’s ridiculous” or “I can’t believe you would think that,” while the more passive aggressive partner may go silent, use weaponized confusion or simply just check out. Neither partner is validating the other’s perspective, which is why the fight starts.  Both partners are focusing only on their own viewpoint, and neither is showing much empathy at all.


When things start getting heated, try saying “I can see your point.”  If you are someone who struggles with this idea, protesting, “But I can’t see their point!  Their point doesn’t make sense!” then it is likely that you need to work on your own perspective-taking and empathy skills.  When people struggle with empathy or validation, it is almost definite that they did not receive much of either when growing up. Instead, they were raised in homes where there was only one “right” way to think and feel, and anything else received parental disapproval.


If you struggle with saying “I can see your point” because you are worried that if you admit that you can understand their perspective, your partner will force you to agree to a behavior or decision, you can rest assured that they will in fact feel far better about you and be much more willing to be flexible if they feel heard and understood.  For example, here is how a wife might interact with her husband when she is worried about conceding any ground to him:


Mary: You have to call me when you’ll be late getting home!  It’s really inconsiderate.


Joe: I’m sorry, my boss was talking to me and I couldn’t figure out how to interrupt him to do that.


Mary: Well, I’m sure there was a way and you need to figure it out!


Joe: Look, why are you being so rigid about this? It's not like I’m out doing God knows what.

And so forth. Joe is obviously less likely to call in the future because he feels that Mary doesn’t understand his position or that his intentions weren’t to hurt her. 


Now let’s see what it would look like using my magic words:


Mary: You have to call me when you’ll be late getting home!  It’s really inconsiderate.


Joe: I’m sorry, my boss was talking to me, and I couldn’t figure out how to interrupt him to do that.


Mary: I can see your point. But look, can you try to find a way in the future?


Joe: Okay, I can try.  I can’t always promise it will happen, but I will try harder.


That is a much more validating interaction for both partners, and the reality is that Joe feels better about his marriage when Mary can understand that it was stressful for him to have his boss talking to him right when he knew she expected a text, and Mary feels better with Joe’s response that he will try to do better versus him getting more defensive and not even saying he will try. 


On Joe’s end, he is more likely to try to do better if he thinks that Mary can be flexible, but if he thinks she is rigid about needing a text by exactly X time, and he doesn’t know if he can do that 100% of the time, then he will commit to nothing. This isn’t to hurt her, but because he fears that she will yell at him even more if he doesn’t do exactly what she wants (which he doesn’t feel he can do and doesn’t feel motivated to want to do after this fight).


When your partner (or your child, for that matter) feels like you are trying to understand their perspective, this quickly turns down the intensity of arguments.  You are basically communicating that the relationship is more important than this, and that you respect your partner’s intelligence and judgement, even if you yourself have a different view and you disengage from the power struggle. Try this phrase the next time you get into an argument, and you may be surprised at how it dials down the level of conflict immediately. It’s simple, concise and it works.

 


Silvia Farag, MSW, LSW, PsyD Candidate runs the Christian Center for Counseling and works with adolescent and adult clients in individual, couples & family therapy. Her personal philosophy is that through human connection, we can foster the encouragement needed to take courageous steps toward creating positive change. She uses evidenced based and strengths-based approaches & believes in the inherent ability of everyone to overcome when they are willing to step into their potential. Therapy illuminates the path so the client can make conscious steps towards emotional health. Her attitude is one of respect and acceptance of each client’s individuality, allowing for the creation of a safe, therapeutic space. Silvia serves with Coptic Women Fellowship, an archdiocese ministry focused on enriching, supporting, and strengthening the lives of women, along with the clergy and several accomplished women of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

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