It could be a lot worse

A major focus of the User Manual is on fighting, or what I euphemistically call “the danger zone.”

Fighting is essential in any relationship ever — it’s biologically impossible for any human being to perfectly coexist with another human being for long periods of time, I don’t care if it’s the love of your life, your BFF from college, or Barack Obama. Having it out and addressing those sprouting disagreements before they blossom into nuclear war is vital to healthy relationships.

Research slams home that it’s not if you fight–it’s how you fight. And a key to fighting right is the start up.

As you give feedback, start soft. Be nice. Give your partner a kiss or a hug, tell them you love them, and kindly raise your point.

Now, be nice about your point–but don’t BURY the point. Be specific and point to an example of what’s driving you crazy, and say how an action hurt or bothered you. And it never hurts to remind your partner that despite them being imperfect, you still love them madly.

And if you’re withstanding a complaint? (We’ve all been there, likely today.) Acknowledge it. Otherwise, people think their delivery wasn’t clear enough and they weren’t heard, which encourages them to up the volume and vileness in the future so as to slice through with the brute force of a chainsaw blowtorch, which we should invent shortly.

This point resonates with me because once upon a time I was in a relationship where my partner favored a carpet bombing approach to fights. To mix metaphors, she started with a shrieking missile in the face, followed up with a flurry of historical grievances jabs, and wind down with an eye-rolling/grunting combination that always managed to decimate my soul and feed it to disgusting oversized rodents. Needless to say, I was too damaged to acknowledge most of the time, and it didn’t work.

Starting soft sounds simple, but it can be as hard to pull off as structuring a phrase with four consecutive alliterative words. When we’re raging angry with hot blood throbbing through our veins and bursting with colorful descriptions to describe previously unimaginable vileness, the soft start feels like speed bump en route to the Indy 500.

That’s when you wait, breathe, go for a walk, do yoga, watch TV, or find another way to calm yourself down. If your partner is like me and can’t stand unexplained silences, tell them you need some time to cool off, use a hand signal — and definitely include it in your User Manual.

I can’t stress enough how essential this is. Relationship guru John Gottman can predict in the first three minutes into a disagreement if a couple will divorce — entirely from the startup approach! It sets the tone for the argument and beyond.

Start soft, finish strong.

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