You know what I seriously hate?
Fighting with people—especially the ones I love.
Yet, we’re all human. Sometimes we get triggered.
That’s when I come roaring out of the gate like an untamed tiger. Then I say that one terrible thing that can’t be unsaid.
But here’s the glorious thing. I’ve learned from my fights over the years. So these days my meltdowns don’t happen much anymore. Instead, I have better tools to use, instead of the same old huffy defensiveness.
In the interest of spreading a little serenity and self-care around, I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered:
1. Use words to set boundaries—and don’t wait.
I notice I’ve got to do this as soon as I feel my hackles go up. That is my unfailing sign that a boundary has been crossed. If I wait, it gets harder and harder to maintain control as each minute passes.
Useful phrases include: “Please don’t talk to me like that,” and “I’m not available for this conversation right now.” I wait until all is calm again. And then we talk.
2. Pause and think.
As a tall, somewhat loud person, I’m a big reactor. I can go right down the bowling alley of my emotions and go for a strike the minute I see something I don’t like. And yet, there is always that precious moment when, if I really want to, I can pause. I can stop and think about what is most important. Is it being right? Or is it being kind and respectful?
3. I try not to take it personally.
Oh, how hard this is, right? My ego is just itching for a fight at such times, and so she makes up all kinds of nonsense. But when I remember that the other person is suffering too, then I can begin to let go. It’s possible the whole darn fight is about someone else’s hard day, or recently received bad news they just got that has nothing to do with me. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
4. Take a time out.
Sometimes the best thing I can do is walk away, especially if the other person and I appear to be getting deeper and deeper into dangerous territory. This way I give myself and the other person the healing respect of space. It’s an amazingly effective way to defuse a fight before it begins. Then, when we are both at our best again, we can make sense of the issue. (Note: I try to do this before I deliver the zinger my ego is just itching to launch.)
5. I go easy on myself.
Like I said above, I’m not perfect. So when I go limping away from conflict, licking my wounds, I remember that I’m basically still flawed. And I probably always will be.
What’s important is that my intentions are good. I truly want to avoid a fight. I want to communicate with grace and love. Trying is what really matters.
If I don’t get it perfectly right this time, I remember that perfection is not the goal. Awareness is. And all I can do in this minute is what I can do.
6. Journaling helps.
There is nothing like writing my ideas out. I always keep a big spiral notebook to process the sludge that flows through my life. It’s a way to see the issues spelled out before me in black and white. Then, as I keep my pen moving, insights sometimes come. This is where I begin to calm down and collect my thoughts.
7. Today is just today, and tomorrow is another day.
Not to be too “Gone With the Wind” about it, but the facts remain. Right now is the only true moment. The rest is all story or fantasy, and it has no bearing on the present. When we’re honest, we have no idea what will happen next. So I ask myself, are my fears and dark thoughts grounded in anything at all?
8. I apologize.
Cause you know what? I always have a part in every last argument or fight, even if it’s just rearing up in defensive (loud) alarm. If I spoke unkindly to someone else, and then I apologize and take responsibility, the burden leaves my shoulders. I can relax again and proceed into the world feeling a whole lot better. And no, I don’t have a right to expect the other person to do the same. That truly is their business. Yet my serenity can still return because I’m happy in my own skin again.
9. I remember that fights are hard on everyone.
Here’s the trickiest tool of all, but also the most important one. Whomever I fought with is undoubtedly smarting as well. Really. It’s just something for me to keep in mind. I don’t have to cheer them up or make everything all better. A simple apology for my part will suffice.
We are all caught in this mortal coil together, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. So life goes on and we live and we learn.
And that, my friend, is exactly the point.