No matter how good or strong your relationship is, we’ve all had those arguments.
The ones that seem to escalate for no good reason. A simple disagreement turns into a shouting match where both of us want to force our point down the other’s throat.
The fight usually ends when one of us reaches a point where we can’t take it anymore.
Typically, we storm out of the room (or house) to get some physical space from the anger, or reluctantly — and resentfully — give in for no other reason than to end the fighting.
If we’re lucky, after we’ve each had space to think more objectively about the other person’s point-of-view, we’ll revisit the issue and have a calmer conversation. One where we actually hear and acknowledge the other person’s feelings (instead of pretending to listen while we furiously work on our next rebuttal in our head).
But more often than not, the overwhelming fatigue from fighting causes us to ignore and shelve the unresolved issue for fear of diving right back into that same, heated argument.
The issue remains lurking in the shadows — just waiting for a window of opportunity to take it off the shelf. And this time, the argument will probably go from 0-60 much faster because the unresolved resentment from last time rushes right back in; shoving out any chance of calm, productive dialogue.
Don’t you wish you could end this never-ending cycle of arguing? I sure as hell do.
The fact is, we’ll never avoid arguments completely. Unless you’re in a relationship with someone who thinks and acts EXACTLY like you (and how incredibly boring would that be?), you’re going to disagree occasionally… or a lot.
But is there a way to stop a disagreement before it escalates into a fight? Yes, absolutely.
The trick is to break the tension of a small argument before it grows out of control and into angry outbursts you’ll later regret. And there is one surefire way to do it.
But first, I need to tell you a little story.
A long time ago, one of my best friends told me her son was having problems controlling his temper. He couldn’t have been much more that 7 or 8 at the time.
When he got frustrated or annoyed by something, it usually escalated fairly quickly to angry outbursts. He would get so worked up he would yell and even swear at his family.
Now, if my kid yells and swears at me, my immediate reaction is to put him in his place and discipline him for the hurtful outburst.
But my friend did something different. Something amazing.
She decided to not to get angry or shame him for swearing or the outbursts. Instead, she came up with an idea of how he could express his anger in a way that wasn’t hurtful to others, but allowed them to see that he needed their attention and support.
She told him that when he was starting to feel frustration building up, he could just yell the word “Donkey!” (randomly chosen… or was it?). This way she would know immediately that he needed support in working through his feelings before they grew out of control.
It ended up working so well that soon everyone in the family started saying “Donkey!” when they were beginning to get frustrated by someone or something.
Nine times out of ten, the frustration or argument would get cut short by bursts of laughter and then calm reasoning.
So here’s what you need to do…
Choose your “Donkey!” word.
Work together to pick a word — preferably one that references an inside joke just between the two of you (or your family). Or you could just stick with “Donkey!” (Sometimes it’s easier to go with stuff that’s already proven to work.)
And the next time tensions start to rise in a conversation — whether one of you cuts the other off rudely, says something incredibly stupid or mean… or whatever starts to raise the voice level of one or both of you — one of you shouts your “Donkey!” word, and the tension should suddenly break and hopefully leave you both in a lighter, giggly mood.
This is an important step. You should agree ahead of time on what the protocol is for refocusing the conversation to one that’s fair and productive anytime someone says the code word.
That way the disagreement actually gets resolved instead of brushed aside and forgotten, only to rear its ugly head later on.
Finally, do yourself a favor and only say it when really necessary.
Imagine if you said the word every day, multiple times a day. It loses its specialness and power. And anyway, if you have that many heated arguments…well, you’ve got bigger problems.
At the end of the day, we all want to be able to listen objectively and hold a loving space for our partners, even when they’re pissing us off.
Sometimes, we just need a little help.