Asking Yourself These Two Simple Questions Can Stop Any Fight

Science suggests asking these two questions is the key to solving relationship conflicts more effectively.

Every couple has had their fair share of ups and downs in a relationship. Yes, even the happiest of couples have fights—they’re not perfect. Science suggests the key to remaining level headed and maintaining a much-needed perspective during a fight is in asking yourself two questions.

Just ask yourself these two questions

So, what are the two questions that can result in a stronger relationship and better conflict resolution?

Ask yourself, “Where do I see this relationship in one year?” and “How would my best friend handle this issue?” These questions come from a 2016 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers suggest taking a step back to gain emotional distance during heated conflicts over typical issues couples argue about most—such as finances—can provide perspective that allows them to resolve problems with better reasoning and more forgiveness.

The science behind the questions

Alex Huynh and Igor Grossmann, PhD, study authors from Waterloo University, along with Daniel Yang, PhD, of Yale University, sought to examine the benefits of maintaining a future perspective during relational conflicts. They asked the study participants to recall a recent conflict with a loved one or close friend. One group was told to think about their feelings about the conflict in the present, while another group was directed to consider how they might feel about the conflict one year in the future.

The researchers then examined the participants’ written responses for the use of pronouns such as I, me, she, and he. The use of pronouns showed the participants’ focus on the behaviour of those involved in the conflict. Also, the pronouns served to show the respondent’s own focus on their feelings related to the incident. The responses were also studied for helpful reasoning strategies, including forgiveness and feeling more positive about the relationship.

The team of researchers found people viewed their relationship in a more positive way with increased forgiveness when they envisioned the relationship one year in the future.

How to gain future perspective during a fight

How can couples work to gain a future perspective during heated arguments? Dr. Grossmann, also an associate professor of psychology, suggests that couples try to avoid getting into heated conflicts in the first place (easier said than done). “The main issue here is the awareness that you’re in an emotional situation in the first place,” he says. “Quite often, when one is in the heat of the moment, the insight of being in an emotional situation is lacking because he or she is too focused on the present.”

Dr. Grossman is working on a solution to change this with wearable technology. “For instance, it is theoretically possible to use physiological fitness trackers like Fitbit, Apple Watch, or others, to estimate one’s stress level and get customized reminders about taking a step back or other strategies.” These ideas are in the early stages of development, he notes. Dr. Grossmann also recommends that couples not only envision their future together during conflicts, but also utilize a third-person perspective in order to consider how someone else might respond in their exact scenario. (Also, check out these tiny ways to make your partner feel loved.)

Future research on strategies to fight productively

For couples that often find themselves on the losing end of a battle with flaring tempers, this study along with others brings hope. More research is being conducted to help them, along with the discovery and development of strategies that can be useful during the moments couples need them most.

Lead researcher Huynh, a PhD candidate, was motivated to conduct this study out of a desire to understand the way conflict in relationships is processed. He explains, “My interest in this research came from trying to understand what cognitive strategies people might adopt to help keep their relationships healthy and stable in the face of conflict.”

Past research has highlighted the benefits of taking a step back and not allowing ourselves to get too caught up in our emotions during a conflict. So, he wanted to understand how thinking about the future might serve a similar function. Also, this can help couples adopt healthy habits. “As it turns out, future-oriented thinking not only helps maintain healthy relationships, it helps them think about their relationship in a way that fosters growth and positivity toward their partners,” he says.

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