I had a bust-up with my girlfriend last night.
Tensions have been rising about being housebound the for a long time, right alongside the continual roll-call of client cancellations.
They are just dropping like flies at the moment.
It’s been a really challenging time trying to market in a non-standard environment. And I didn’t communicate my desire to talk this through in-depth with my girlfriend, when I’ve wanted to walk through what I should do/focus upon right now for some time.
It’s no secret that agency life isn’t particularly enjoyable.
And it’s of my own accord I decided to not really section-time away to actually make it a focused discussion (even if it’s with myself) to process how I feel properly. Instead, it’s been 5–10 minute conversations here and there without giving it really considered thought.
These are the trappings of working remotely and, by and large, alone.
This resulted in me having a huge bust-up with my partner and it turning into a personal attack-led conversation. The argument stemmed from myself and how awful I was feeling yesterday emotionally.
As she told me — it may have been the case I was simply on my ‘period’ — i.e., a day where I was just feeling emotionally down and there was nothing more to it than to just let the time pass.
Of course, being male, I stereotypically decided to try and resolve this internal feeling of depression myself through these ways:
- I took a nap
- I went for a run earlier than normal
- I ordered pizza for lunch
- I told Daniela I was feeling down
- I switched off and watched TV shows earlier than normal
Having not found success with any of these strategies — upon reflection, whilst Daniela and I were watching ‘New Girl’ — a TV show we are currently watching, I took slight to the fact she seemed distant and then ultimately, I snapped.
Without warning or giving her any verbal indication that I was upset.
And then cue a HUGE argument.
So in this blog — I’m not going to focus on ‘managing or avoiding’ the argument. I’m going to focus on how to manage conflict caused by an argument gone nuclear and how to ultimately recover from it.
What I Used To Do — Solution-Orientated Approach
Seems to me that this is a classic male response.
I would try to go through the whole range of emotions immediately within the whole context of the argument.
By that I mean — we would have a big fight — hurtful things would be said by each other and then I would immediately expect us to figure out the challenges and then resolve it there on the spot.
I’d assume that resolving these situations was easier ultimately than resolving my business issues, when in fact relationships are far more complex.
In the case of dealing with a business partner — this style works — because you’re also talking to someone who has likely a much more similar style to you.
In a romantic relationship, however, it’s not the same thing and it was my failure to really recognize this that led me to prolonging an argument by seeking an immediate solution.
Preaching and Pleading For Forgiveness
The other classic mistake I’d make is pleading for Daniela to forgive me.
It isn’t attractive and really can diminish the respect your partner has for you in a relationship.
Imagine leaking accidentally private credit card details of client A to client B in a shared email and then missing all the angry calls you got from client A about doing this because you regularly leave your phone in a closet.
And then on being lambasted by your angry business partner you say ‘dude I’m so sorry it won’t happen again’.
It requires further thought and thinking and an understanding of:
- Why did this happen?
- What protocols were not in place?
- Why were you sharing credit card details on an unsecure wifi network?
- Why didn’t you answer your phone?
And a much deeper analysis.
And in relationships, we tend to skip this part and move to pleading forgiveness…
This makes you look emotionally weak because it becomes more about being in your partner’s good books as opposed to actually wishing to resolve the problem.
Which means the problem will likely reoccur.
This is something that I would sometimes do in spurts and I haven’t found to be very effective either.
Stonewalling is ultimately ignoring the problem and just choosing to move forward with no recourse to identifying what the underlying issues (if there are any) truly are.
Again this does nothing to help the relationship.
By ignoring the problem you don’t resolve it; at best you allow it room to go dormant until another such situation arises.
In these instances, I’ve always struggled with time. I want to have a bust-up and then immediately move towards a solution.
But everyone works based on a different clock.
I come from a family where we will have arguments and then move on from them the next day or sometimes the next hour like they never happened at all.
In Daniela’s family conflict is a lot less common, and therefore arguments needed a lot more time.
So my short-sightedness would lead me to rush towards solutions when the timing isn’t right at all.
Don’t do that either.
Lack of Analysis
Issues also reoccur when the underlying problems behind why the issue occurred in the first place isn’t analyzed with any depth.
(Note this is also very common in business relationships — many of the same principles apply here).
So in the instance of the argument I had with Daniela — much of this stemmed from my inability to properly express the reality that I still wasn’t feeling great and it was a very much up and down day.
Ultimately this would result in a huge argument later on in the evening.
So let’s explore some of the insights I gleaned from simply thinking about the preceding moments before our argument with this new context.
My difficulty in expressing my feelings (verbally anyway) comes from being in a family where feelings of this nature aren’t disclosed.
And I do better perhaps than my siblings in this regard.
So my cry for help was saying to Daniela ‘I feel sad’ in a text earlier in the day and nothing more.
I should have raised the fact I was still not feeling great later on but my embarrassment about the idea of repeating this stood larger than the value in telling Daniela.
Men’s egos do tend to get in their own way
And then ultimately I started sending ‘signals’ that I thought were obvious cues.
How could Daniela not see them?
But my cues to grab her attention were actually just being silent and putting my hand on the edge of her knee once or twice.
Daniela could have no idea on that basis that I was still sad.
And all I needed to really do was tell her ‘hey, Daniela, you know what I’m sorry to bring it up again but I’m still feeling sad — can I have a hug’.
Even writing that down is difficult because it’s an admission of vulnerability and cry for help, which men are terrible at.
But the cost of not doing that was a much bigger argument where I launched into personal attacks on Daniela.
So please do analyse WHY the argument started.
This type of analysis is something we should all do post-conflict with anybody as a means of identifying what the issues are to make sure we can correct them moving forward.
For me the obvious learnings are:
- Communicate my feelings explicitly through words
- If I don’t feel better spend more time alone until it passes rather than trying to push it down
Now please note that the analysis above misses out upon many aspects:
- Contextual analysis — what were we doing at the time
- Prologue analysis — what was happening in the build-up to the explosion
- Explosion analysis — how was the actual argument handled
- Aftermath analysis — what happened in the 24 hours after the argument
- Post-argument analysis — one week later — what are your final thoughts
Lack Of A Framework
So, once you run a deep analysis you can begin from this to build several frameworks.
An analytical framework as shown above. In the military, this would be part of a debrief where you run through all of the parts of any kind of military exercise.
Then you can build a tool kit from this to make sure that you have SOPs in place for the future.
Standard operating procedures within your relationship with your partner — and with yourself.
I shall do this…
I shall not do that…
This may seem ludicrous to many, because I’m not sure how many people do this at all — but on having relationship conflict or otherwise — there is HUGE value in Googling ‘what to do after you’ve had a huge argument with your partner’.
It’ll give you a series of strategies that relationship experts have written up.
It’s the fastest and most effective way to understand what the appropriate behaviours should be once you’re in a place of conflict.
So now we’ve got the ‘amusing’ part handled.
Let’s focus upon advice that you can find from being more specific in your search intent –
This is taken from my button-bashing into the Chrome address bar and Google auto-suggests the most popular searches for what I typed in.
I’d perhaps be in two minds about taking the advice from this site alone as it’s called Bustle and contains ‘GIPHY’ in the title — but yet it ranks page 1 — so it must have some inherent value.
The point I’m trying to make with this — is that via a simple Google search you can very much gain some insight and coordinate a move towards conflict resolution.
So spend 15 minutes scanning through the articles on page 1, and run a mental meta analysis to understand what you can do to complement your already existing knowledge when it comes to conflict resolution.
I read through about 20–30 points to hit upon 2–3 that I didn’t appreciate before.
And this is what we’ll cover in the following parts.
So this is still a huge Achilles heel of mine.
Learning to walk away even in the midst of an argument when I think I’ll end up saying things that I regret.
I get past the point, regret it, and then realize later ‘I wish I didn’t say that’.
And so the insight here is simple.
If you’re shouting intensely at each other than stop immediately and just walk away to cool off.
Basically, leave the room and expend your negative energy elsewhere before you return.
You will thank yourself for it in the future many times over.
Giving It Some Time
In the immediate aftermath of an argument, this is the first thing that must happen. You must allow your partner some time to process the argument.
I’ll add that this applies to any intimate relationship — including business relationships.
This is actually a fundamental that many people — especially the impatient types like myself — get wrong in sales, relationship formation as well as conflict resolution.
Everyone has their own sense of a timeline, and those timelines are to be respected.
Historically with Daniela, I’d get into an argument and want to resolve the issue almost as quickly as the issue had arisen, and this just did not work very well for us at all as a couple.
It applies to break-ups also.
Patience, space and time really can cure all wounds.
So post-argument of any kind it’s pretty important to allow the other person some room to calm down and think about other more positive things.
If you’re solutions-focused like I am this will be quite difficult to comprehend; that waiting and giving someone space can just work.
But it does
Giving Each Other Some Space
Proximity is a big factor when it comes to conflict.
At the time of writing the Coronavirus is affecting everything worldwide so it means most of us are going through enforced lock-ins
Ergo, space can be a problem but nonetheless.
This is a simple one — I won’t get into it too much.
If there’s tension between you, it’s best to spend some time away from each other
A Specific Apology
In the aftermath of an argument, there tends to be a couple of ways the process can follow. You either extend the argument over a long period of time.
This can happen through silent treatment — which is just as bad (if not worse) than yelling by the way.
You could just keep on arguing like a series of tremors after the initial earthquake
Or you could plead forgiveness minus an analysis
All three of these don’t really work well at all.
The best place to start is beginning with an immediate apology that ‘you’re sorry you argued’ and to identify the things you could have changed with your reaction and perhaps why you reacted the way you did.
Do you see what’s happening here, the main focus is being sorry that you argued and apologising for the way you responded to the discussion you were having.
It does potentially infer you are wrong (loosely), but broadly it’s making general statements you can probably live by.
You’re sorry for arguing and sorry for shouting/personal attacks/otherwise.
This DOESN’T imply that you think the point you were trying to make is the wrong one, but rather that you’re working towards a solution
The other principle is not to ramble and to be succinct.
Points and impact get lost in long-form apologies.
Looking for patterns
One of the other pieces of this is establishing whether this is something that is part of a wider pattern.
In our personal as well as professional lives this is something that we don’t nearly do enough.
When it comes to the conflict that arises in a relationship — who is the main instigator?
Who normally apologises first?
Who holds grudges?
Who often do arguments occur?
Questions like this are extremely powerful in identifying destructive patterns.
And this relates to business decisions that you make in partnership and indeed anything else.
In areas of conflict though it’s particularly powerful because it’s important to understand who is instigating what and any patterns surrounding it.
This can lead to definite improvements in your behaviour once you become aware of these issues.
When They’re The Problem
In all of this self-analysis — sometimes it’s easy to get lost in addressing that both of you have a role to play in these situations.
In the instance of Daniela and I — her being Italian and my being British — there’s definitely a difference in temperament between us and this can lead to different ways of dealing with conversations.
Some of the time I feel the conversation doesn’t precipitate the response I’m met with but then equally she feels British people have a huge tendency to be passive-aggressive which is definitely true.
Where does this leave you in terms of conflict resolution then?
Approaching challenges you have with your partner’s behaviour at the point at which there’s an argument usually serves to escalate the issues and not lead anywhere positive.
So whilst the issues do need to be resolved. They deserve to be resolved at a later stage once the emotions and conflict itself have passed.
I.e when the message is ready to be heard.
True change takes time.
For all of us.
Time and consistency.
And the fortunate reality (ideally) for most of us is that conflicts you do have are far and few between because the fundamentals of your relationship are solid and therefore you have little chance to ‘improve’ because you have little chance to practice.
This means that the desire to learn often dissipates with the issue itself.
Now there’s a question as to whether the processing of all of this is worth the effort — and that’s a question that I leave to you.
The truth is — is that when you hit those emotional triggers — they are the moments to take as much action as possible to ensure that you drive lasting change.
And as long as you get 1% better per argument — it means that you will get much much better in time.
This blog has definitely been a more challenging post for me to write amongst all of them.
But these are the thoughts I wish to leave you with:
- Arguments present amazing learning opportunities
- When they occur, take massive action as I have with writing a 3,000 word blog over 3-days about it
- Focus on getting 1% better each time, as long as you learn one solid thing from mistakes made you will do better next time
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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