"Happily ever after" does not exist without hard work and compromise. When issues arise -- and they will -- it is important to keep your cool and fight for the relationship, not personal victory.
Prevention is Key
The best way to keep your cool is to not lose it in the first place. Try to schedule a regular time to discuss the current issues and concerns in your relationship. Keep a white board or piece of paper in a central location and jot down your topics as they arise. Then, every Sunday night, for example, snuggle up on the couch and go over your list. Approach this as a problem-solving team meeting. "I see you're feeling overwhelmed with work obligations right now -- what if I make dinner next week?" Avoid criticisms or accusations; stick to problems and their solutions.
Call a Time Out
Even the best efforts at preventing conflict will not always be successful. Tempers will flare and conflict will happen. As your adrenaline surges, you are bound to experience "fight or flight" -- neither of which is particularly beneficial to a relationship. When you feel flooded with emotions and want to either lash out or run away, take a deep breath and calmly ask for a break. Try to phrase your request as neutrally as possible. Instead of saying "I can't stand being around you right now" try "I'm feeling overwhelmed and need to take a few minutes to calm down." This is easier said than done when your heart is racing and you are flooded with emotion, but it will become easier with practice. During your time-out, do something relaxing -- read a book, take a bath or take a walk.
Return and Focus
Time-outs are great, but they are actually counterproductive to your relationship if you don't address the original conflict. Ignoring problems does not make them go away. So before you take your time-outs, agree on a time and place to resume your discussion. "Let's come back here in a half hour to figure this out." Then keep your word and return to the problem. Stay focused on the original concern and avoid unnecessary accusations. For example, accusing your partner of not loving you enough or being cold is not an effective way to request more intimacy. Be direct, sticking to the real issues.
Teach Your Children Well
If you have children, they are bound to witness an argument or two. When this happens, make sure to reconcile in front of the children as well. Try to model compromise, negotiation, resolution and apologies, if necessary. Your example teaches your children how to handle conflict -- let the example be a good one.
Tricks to Keep Cool
Sometimes, when emotions are running high, laughter really is the best medicine. Use humor wisely -- and not at your partner's expense -- to diffuse anger quickly. Or use touch to bridge the gap and initiate communication. A gentle touch on the shoulder or even a hug can remind you of your connection and turn the conversation around. There is never a winner in these situations. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and put the relationship first.
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