Relationships all have their bumpy moments. Some happen more than others, but relationships that last are able to move forward from these moments without getting caught up in the bumps for lengthy periods of time.
One of the notable issues I’ve witnessed time and again in my practice are opposing (and complementary) processes that often occur between people in relationships. What tends to happen in an argument is that one person wants to immediately resolve the issue, while the other wants to get away from the conflict.
The one who wants to resolve issues immediately hopes to talk about the issue, process it in the moment, and wrap it up in a handful of minutes in order to move forward. This person will often follow their partner in an attempt to extend the conversation, even though it’s clear that the other doesn’t want to continue.
The intentions are good in this, but it’s generally not so simple. While one partner tends toward resolution immediately, the other partner often desires time and space to cool off.
These simultaneously complementary and contrasting modes of emotional process can exacerbate arguments if one isn’t aware that emotional processes take time. Though these modes of processing are complementary, they don’t necessarily work so well together the way other complementary qualities can. Care and recognition of the other’s needs are important in conflict resolution.
If you’re the type of person who needs time and space when you get into a tiff with your partner, it’s important not to completely stonewall your partner. Stonewalling is a passive-aggressive behavior, and this will often cause further aggravation and irritation to the situation.
A better way would be to say: “I want to resolve this, but right now I’m frustrated and need some time before I can think clearly. Let’s cool off and we’ll talk about this in three hours (or some designated time).”
If you’re someone who likes to resolve issues right away, be careful of the assumption that you’re doing the relationship a favor by immediately pushing to resolve and leave the issue behind. This can be overwhelming to your partner, especially if they’re emotionally activated already. It’s also worth bearing in mind that when a person has an urge to resolve an issue in the moment, there tends to be a general difficulty dealing with a person being angry at them. With this comes the need to resolve the issue as soon as possible. So, generally, the need to resolve the issue right away is more self-preservation and self-soothing than it is constructive for the relationship. It’s hard to have a constructive and productive conversation when one or both partners is heated, or otherwise emotionally activated.
A better way would be to say: “I’d really like to resolve this now because I don’t like us being upset at each other. But let’s take some time to cool off so we can work this through productively. When can we talk about this?” Setting a time to talk about the issue will help soothe the follower, knowing that there will be an opportunity to resolve the issue.
It is necessary that each partner is able to have a grip on their emotional processes before a healthy resolution can realistically take place. The partner who appreciates time and space can take care not to become passive-aggressive and passively provocative; and the partner who has a need to resolve immediately needs to be careful not to overwhelm and badger their partner.
Both partners can benefit from some type of emotional regulation (such as talking to a friend, exercise, sports, music, etc.) in order to cool down after an argument. While the partner who needs to immediately resolve is essentially acting out, the partner who desires space may be acting in (bottling emotions), which is just as unhealthy for both the partner and the relationship. Figuring out what forms of self-soothing work best for you will help your arguments end more quickly, and then be able to return later to productively resolve them together.
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Last reviewed: 15 Sep 2013