By Dr. Noelle Pomeroy, PHD, LMHC | Contributor
Relationships can often be measured by how we handle tension and disagreement. Successful relationships usually occur when two people work well together, even when they’re angry or upset with one another. Here are three tips to help you navigate these inevitable times:
1. Use “I” language.
When you’re frustrated with another person or want to express that something they did (or didn’t do) upset you, speaking about how you feel is the most effective approach.
Rather than saying “You don’t listen to me,” try saying, “I get frustrated when you don’t listen to me.”
Instead of “You’re always rolling your eyes at me,” consider saying, “I feel embarrassed when you roll your eyes at me.”
Speaking with “I” language has the speaker take ownership of the feelings the other person’s behavior may be causing and can seem like less of an accusation to the listener.
2. Pause and take a breath.
When you’re having a disagreement with another person, take a breath or a break before speaking, particularly if you feel yourself physically getting agitated (e.g., pressure in your head, pulse rising). Taking a breath calms the body and may help reduce stress in the moment. It may also help you respond rather than react.
If you’re communicating by email or text while upset, write what you want to say and then save the message without sending it. Then return to what you wrote in a few minutes and determine if you still want to send it. You may find that what you initially wrote was more harsh than you actually want to be. This gives you an opportunity to make edits before you send it.
You make mistakes. Sometimes other people are affected by our mistakes. If we value a relationship or need to have a civil coexistence with someone, we need to say, “I’m sorry,” when we do or say something that is inconsiderate or wrong. Even if we don’t have a good excuse for what we did or said, an apology can still be helpful because it lets the other person know you care enough about the relationship to acknowledge you messed up. Many severely damaged relationships became that way because at least one of the people stayed silent when they should have apologized.