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Quarrel with relatives or partners: This is how you avoid escalating

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Very few people give a particularly confident picture of themselves in a dispute. They slam doors, reproach, say nothing more, run away. Which option you choose most often depends on what type of argument you are. And that in turn strongly depends on the culture of argument you grew up with in your family.

At least that’s how Kale Monk, psychologist and relationship researcher from the University of Missouri, USA, sees it. “Our families are the most important role models in our socialization,” says Monk. How, for example, your parents communicated with you or with each other and had conflicts, lays the foundation for your own dispute behavior as adults. “What happened in our home is what we later perceive as ‘normal’,” explains the researcher. And what you have once saved as “normal” is usually deeply anchored in you.

Was it common in your family to argue loudly and aggressively? Open criticism of each other was the order of the day? Conflicts were simply pushed aside and problematic topics were never addressed? In all cases, the chances are high that you will retain these patterns from your childhood as adults; and that you apply them in your relationships today, for example when you talk, discuss, argue with your partner, your friends or your relatives.

Changes the dynamics

Yes, good news: you can change something about your behavior. It’s exhausting – but possible, says Kale Monk. “Noticing that a certain behavior is not helping you to get the results you want is an important first step,” says psychologist Monk. So ask yourself which of your patterns have helped you in the fight with your partner or your parents so far – and which have not. And then: change something about those patterns.

“If you try new ways of communicating with others, it can force them to react differently to you,” explains Kale Monk. “You then changed the dynamic.” Has your friend never taken criticism of you to heart if you expressed it loudly and reproachfully? Then try the next time in a conciliatory tone and with more I-messages. Your mother is offended every time you point out something that offends you? Then next time you give a few hours before you confront them in peace.

Admittedly, this “changing” is often more difficult than it sounds. For example, when you are angry, it is difficult to be rational in an argument. But you can also get such emotions under control with a few simple tricks, says Kale Monk – regardless of whether it is a dispute with a loved one, your superior or a relative.

Trick 1: “Time-Out”

If your mother asks you again this Christmas Eve when she can “finally” expect grandchildren of yours and if you feel the anger rising in you – then take a break instead of verbally shooting back, leave the party or your mother to punish with ignorance. “It is difficult to give a socially acceptable answer in such a state,” says psychologist Monk. Instead, take a deep breath, go outside for maybe five or ten minutes, and only then give an answer.

Trick 2: “Fly on the wall

In an acute dispute, imagine that you are not part of it, but a third party, an observer. A fly that sits on the wall and has noticed everything. What would you have seen: Perhaps yourselves, how you became loud and interrupted your counterpart? Or maybe how you made fun of the other person? “Then you should think about how you actually want to be perceived in a conflict,” advises Kale Monk. Often, he says, we want to “be right”, for example. “But if one person wins an argument, it means that the other person, loses,” says the psychologist. “And in that case the whole relationship loses.” With the “fly trick” you automatically become a bit more objective.

Trick 3: honest listening

“To listen? I will! ”Many people would say that about themselves and their behavior in disputes. But Kale Monk believes that really actively paying attention to the other person takes practice. For possible arguments on Christmas Eve, he advises you: Make sure that you listen and correct understand what your family members or partner is saying. “Even if you disagree: ask questions. Repeat what has been said again. ”That alone can help defuse conflicts and not fall into old patterns that do not bring you closer to a solution. “In disputes, people often just want to be heard and understood,” says the psychologist.

Trick 4: Find the one-on-one interview

This tip relates to disputes on occasions where several people are present – for example at Christmas dinner with parents and siblings. “When a difficult topic comes up or someone says something derogatory to you that you want to counter – try not to do it while all the other family members are listening,” advises Kale Monk. “One-on-one talks can be more beneficial if the rest of the family cannot interfere or even exacerbate the conflict.”

In a one-on-one conversation, you should first tell your counterpart that you love him or her – if that’s true. This can make it easier to follow up on what hurt you. “In this way you remind the other person that you are still a family and that they are important to you, even if you disagree or question their point of view.” As a result, Monk says, the person you are talking to has the feeling that you are just one of them Criticizes views and not him or her as a whole person.

Trick 5: Set clear boundaries if necessary

There are things about which one can disagree; and there are remarks that humiliate you and that you don’t have to put up with. If you have the feeling that one of your parents is intruding on your privacy or offending you, then make it clear to him or her that this is not possible with you, advises psychologist Monk.

“You don’t have to put up with any conversation that is traumatic or even abusive for you,” he says. You can quickly stop such conversations by saying something like: “I am grateful for everything you have done for me, but I will not tolerate such remarks.”

What you should always remember in all arguments: It is very possible that you, but also the people around you, are more irritable and tense at the moment than they usually would be. The Corona year 2020 caused even more controversy than you had before. Especially on Christmas days this can drain your strength. In this particular situation, it could be worthwhile if you work on getting rid of your usual, practiced dispute patterns – and try to consciously avoid an escalation.


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