Not many people actually enjoy conflict. Whether it’s a fight with a friend, a rift with a co-worker, or a blowout with your significant other, conflict hurts. But the alternative is lingering grudges, endless speculation, suffering, and sometimes divorce.
Conflicts strengthen relationships—provided they’re resolved properly and something greater comes of them. So how do you make up after conflict? Read on for some tips.
1- Take a Time Out to cool down if the conflict escalates
Just as it works for a three-year-old having a tantrum, a time out works for adults in conflict. If you find yourself in an escalating fight with your partner, call a break for at least thirty minutes. If your partner asks for the Time Out, honour their request. Use this time to take a walk by yourself or sit quietly in another room.
Practice deep abdominal breathing: inhale for five beats, hold for four, and then exhale for five. Three deep cleansing breaths are enough to clear most intense emotions. More than that is even better. While you’re cooling down, don’t think about the conflict—that will just reignite the anger. If your mind is too agitated to settle through breathing or meditation (and you don’t want to take a walk, which is another great option), taking a hot and cold shower soothes the nervous system. Run the water hot for a minute, then cold for a minute, alternating for up to five minutes—end on cool water to feel more awake.
2- Make a time to talk calmly about the issue
After you return from your Time Out, don’t immediately launch back into talking about the issue because you’ll likely trigger each other again. Spend some quiet time together or do something fun, enjoyable, or relaxing.
If you need to resolve the argument, make another time with your partner to talk calmly about the issue. Don’t wait hours or days—this is destructive and allows you both to think poisonous thoughts—set a time later that same day, if at all possible.
“Don’t go to bed angry” has been the philosophy of many tribes throughout human history, and it actually works. Research show the strongest couples experience conflict at one time or another, however, they seek to repair any upsets quickly.
3- Sit opposite each other in a quiet setting
When you’re ready to talk calmly about the issue, pick a quiet setting and sit opposite each other. This facilitates positive non-verbal communication, and it signals that you’re both committed to resolving the issue. Make great eye contact with your partner—don’t look down when they’re saying something that’s hard for you to hear. Sometimes in a conflict one party shuts down completely, not making eye contact or speaking loud enough to be heard—that can be a subtle form of manipulation. Eye contact shows you’re not running away.
Likewise, use a soft, melodic voice to calm your partner’s nervous system. This doesn’t mean a fake, passive aggressive tone—just the opposite. Keeping your voice steady and melodic and not talking around the issue says that you want to make up.
4- Focus on what your partner says before responding
After he or she speaks their truth, wait a moment. Really process what they’ve said before you respond. Reflect it back to establish that you heard it correctly. These seem like small details, but they can make the difference between resolving the issue and having it turn into even more of a problem.
When it’s your turn to talk, you can hold your partner’s hand to feel connected with them. Humans exchange information through their hands (and eyes, mouths, chest, legs—pretty much the whole body), and you can use yours for connection and healing. Again, this is calming to the nervous system and will ensure better outcomes from your discussion.
5- Choose empathy
Our egos want to fortify their positions—that’s how most conflicts begin. When you set your ego aside and put yourself in your partner’s shoes, you help him or her feel understood and validated. It also shows you’re willing to put the relationship above your own need to be right. Empathy strengthens bonds between people, and in the best cases it creates a wonderful reciprocal relationship.
At the end of the dialogue, embrace for three long seconds. The human heart has an electromagnetic field around it. When you join with another person’s field, there’s a beautiful moment of connection—if you’re really present, you might even feel it happen.