Drop the “all or nothing” attitude. When you’re frustrated with your partner because he forgot to take out the trash—again—or left his dirty dishes in the sink (like they’re magically going to walk themselves into the dishwasher?), it’s easy to lash back by saying “you never take out the trash” or “you always leave the dishes in the sink.” Really? Always? Going to the extreme doesn’t help your argument. “Leave out ‘you always’ and ‘never,’” suggests Elyse Goldstein, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in private practice in New York City. “We get carried away with our feelings in the moment, like children. You have to treat another person with more respect.”
Instead, focus on your specific point—that you would appreciate it if he could step up more when it comes to tossing out the garbage and putting dirty dishes away.
Empathize with your partner. When you’re ticked off, it’s tough to feel empathy for your partner. But channeling your sympathetic side not only cools anger, it helps you better understand each other’s position and fosters healthier communication. “Empathy is the key to being able to argue better and to put yourself in the other’s shoes,” says Dr. Goldstein. “Really listen—not just pay lip service while you’re thinking about your rebuttal. And realize that you’re talking to someone you love.”
Nix the unnecessary insults. Above all, don’t stoop to demeaning or belittling your mate—the equivalent of tossing a relationship hand grenade into the mix—just because you’re hurt and angry. “Don’t show contempt—nobody is perfect,” says Goldstein. “Instead, think about the intent of the other person. They’re not trying to do you wrong. Mostly, they’re unaware of the transgression, such as the stupid thing they said to you at a party. Sometimes you have to teach your mate what the guide to you is.”
Go to bed angry—sometimes. You’ve heard it a hundred times: “Don’t go to bed angry!” “Women are a little guiltier of that than men,” says Goldstein. “They want the resolution and hate sitting with bad feelings. And we’re socialized to make nice.”
And as it turns out, there’s a grain of truth that going to bed ticked off can be bad: Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that hitting the sack enhances memories, particularly emotional ones. The study found that sleep preserves the negative emotional response, keeping those powerful emotions fresh, while staying awake blunts the emotional response.
That said, if your quarrel kicks off late at night, sometimes tabling the talk until the next day is necessary. “You’re not going to get anywhere when the person is half asleep, really irritated and isn’t really available to have the discussion at that point,” says Burke. “If a couple is unable to resolve issues before bed, they should consider agreeing upon a plan to discuss the resolution at a later date and time—and then retire.” Just be sure to make it a priority to deal with the issue head on the morning after.
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