by Jonathan Robinson: Some couples (and even therapists) say it’s healthy to have occasional fights with one’s partner.
To me, that sounds like a rationalization. Fighting with your partner is no fun, and the hurtful words that result can often do lasting damage to the relationship. I know many couples who never fight with their partner—and they seem very happy—including my wife and I. So what’s the secret to never fighting? I’ve asked dozens of couples who don’t fight what their secret is, and their answers fall into three distinct techniques or categories. Once couples find the idea that best works for them, they can say goodbye to fights forever. With zero time spent fighting, there’s more time for an even deeper love to emerge.
If you’re like most couples, you occasionally get upset at your partner. That’s
normal. The problem is that those upsets can turn into an awful argument if you’re not
careful. As the two of you grow increasingly irritated, a momentum of nastiness can
soon develop. When two people are really mad at each other— no actual listening
occurs. In such a scenario, empathy and understanding become impossible. What can
you do? Well, you can say two simple words: red light. As we all know, a red light at
an intersection means you have to stop and wait for a while. Likewise, when you say the
words “red light” to your mate, it signifies the two of you need to take a five-minute
break from each other. Once the five minutes are over, you can proceed in whatever
way you both feel is best.
What you do during your five minute “red light time” is fully up to you and your
partner. You can sit silently and hold hands, you can take a walk outside, or you can
even watch Youtube video clips. The important thing is to take a break so you can calm
down. Once the five minutes are up, you can both go back to the issue at hand, but this
time the discussion will likely go better. In fact, my wife and I have never proceeded to
have an argument once we took a “red light time-out.” Without the momentum of upset
propelling us into anger, we always manage to talk things out in a respectful and rational
Of course, the first step to this method is to make an iron-clad agreement with your mate
that, whenever you say “red light,” you’ll take a five minute silent break. My wife and I
even have a “penalty” if we talk during this time. Our penalty is that each word we say
costs $1.00. Many years ago, I was so mad that I blurted out 20 words of anger after my
wife said “red light.” I immediately took a $20 bill out of my pocket, handed it to her,
and then stormed out of the room. I’ve never had that problem since. Being cheap has
helped keep my anger in check. If you and your partner decide to make a similar
agreement, the next time either of you get upset, you’ll see just how diabolically effective
this method truly is.
When your partner is irritated at you, they inevitably want you to better
understand why they’re angry and how you contributed to their upset. By taking
responsibility for how your behavior contributed to the problem at hand, you can show
your partner that you do indeed understand their point of view. Once your partner feels
understood, you’ll find they will easily be able to let go of their blame and anger—since
they no longer have to convince you to see their perspective. When one or both partners
are willing to take responsibility, it can stop a fight in its tracks.
Here’s an example of how taking responsibility helped to quickly defuse a
conflict between a couple I was seeing in my office: Soon after sitting down, Joseph and
Jennifer were yelling at each other about who was to blame for the problems they were
having. Jennifer accused Joseph of “non-stop complaining.” Meanwhile, Joseph felt
justified in yelling at Jennifer for her remarks. Both of them were presenting evidence to
me about how the other was in the wrong. Like a mock trial, each of them wanted me to
act as a judge and pronounce one innocent and the other guilty. Instead, I suggested they
try a quick exercise to shed some light on the situation. I asked them each to answer the
following question: “How has their own behavior contributed to the problem at hand?”
As Jennifer and Jerry each answered that question, their faces and voices began to
soften. Jerry said, “I raised my voice again at you, and by doing that I see that I triggered
you into getting understandably upset.” Jennifer responded, “Thanks for saying that.
And I can see that my saying that you have been non-stop complaining was hurtful—and
not really true.” Soon, they both apologized to each other for getting so upset. In less
than a minute they went from screaming to hugging. When couples can take
responsibility for how they have contributed to a problem, it’s like throwing water on a
fire. The fire immediately goes out.
Spoon Away Your Upset
We live in a culture that values words. Yet words are only one way of solving
problems and avoiding fights. The body has its own wisdom. For example, when a couple
makes love, the body has ways of enjoying connection that go way beyond words. When
you use the Spoon Tune technique, you’ll see that overcoming upsets is as easy as a hug
and a breath away.
The method is simple. You make a deal with your partner that, whenever either
one of you makes a request to “breathe together,” you’ll stop what you’re doing and
perform this exercise for three minutes. The exercise involves partners either hugging or
spooning (one person’s front to the other’s back). Either way is fine. Once the couple is
hugging or spooning, the man (or larger partner) matches his breathing pattern to the
woman’s (or smaller partner). That’s it.
The result of this seemingly innocuous technique is rather amazing, however. No
matter how upset you are at your partner when beginning this exercise, your upset will
quickly fade. Your body will feel comforted by the hug, and your mind will become
occupied with the coordinated breathing. The fact that you’re breathing together will also
help put the two of you on the same energetic “wavelength.” Almost as if by magic,
you’ll soon be able to let go of your upset and feel connected to your partner once again.
Once the three minutes of spooning are over, you can proceed however feels right. Yet,
because you’ll have let go of your upset, any discussion you have will surely go better.
The three methods presented here can each be amazingly effective in preventing
fights. In my book, “More Love, Less Conflict,” I offer many more methods for quickly
overcoming upsets and getting back to a place of love. Once you’ve found the methods
that work best for you and your partner, you’ll have a friend for life. Soon, you’ll be
amazed to realize that you are no longer having fights with your partner. The result will
be more time for loving…
Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist, the author of “More Love, Less Conflict,” and has been a frequent guest on Oprah. You can download free methods and info at: MoreLoveLessConflict.com