Try This When You're Mad at Your Partner -- It's a Game Changer

couple at beach looking towards ocean

Which way should you look if you want to stay solid in your relationship? Nope, it's not up. Or left or right or even down. It's out. 


New research shows that couples who keep chatting about the future -- and what they'll be doing in it together -- are not only happier, but more able to let go of relationship conflict and negative emotions.

That's the conclusion of cheerful new research published in the latest issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Study participants were asked to think back to a recent conflict with a romantic partner or friend. One group was asked to recall how they felt in that uncomfortable moment. (Nutshell: bad.) The other batch, to imagine how they'd feel one year into the future.

When they wrote about their reactions, those who contemplated a later time rather than the here and now used more words related to forgiveness and understanding. (Like, we're guessing, "forgive" and "understand.")

They also had a rosier outlook on their relationship vs. those who were asked to wallow in their previous anger and resentment for science's sake.

This makes perfect sense to Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance), a licensed psychotherapist in southern California and the author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together.

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The most important thing couples can do to help them let go of conflict and reaction is to "move to another mind space," Tessina explains. "Thinking about the future does that quite well."

There's a valid reason for that. It's called the prefrontal cortex.

"Located between our eyes, this part of our brain enables us to engage in what's known as executive functioning," explains Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, JD, a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Telluride, Colorado. "This includes planning for the future, weighing the costs and benefits of action, and composing messages that can be heard by our partners."

Once you let go of those feelings of frustration/irritation/resentment/fury you're feeling RIGHT this second, you're able to access rational thought again. And work on solving whatever problem you're having -- together.

Tessina teaches couples how to do this in two simple steps:

Step 1: Change your outlook. "Put your impulses and desires in perspective," she suggests. "Will [what you're upset about] be important an hour from now? Or 15 minutes from now? Most of them won't be."

Step 2: Take a longer view. As they say out on the range, sit back in your saddle, darlin'. Before you put spurs to this particular horse, you need to consider your bigger goal. Maybe it's to have a happy marriage, maybe it's to stop micromanaging everything in your house, whatever.

Then ask yourself: Is giving in to THIS current impulse (which, let's be honest, could be to say something snide you'll later regret) worth setting back that bigger goal?

"Emotional pain is excruciating," admits Hokemeyer. "It makes us feel like we're drowning in a sea of acid. The pain makes us want to thrash and attack those closest to us -- especially when the cause of our pain results from our trust of them."

But this is why, he adds, "it's critically important that we take time to set back from the situation and observe it with intelligence and logic, rather than the intensity of our emotions."

Next time you and your SO are arguing, ask yourself: What Would Future You Do?

That's what we thought.


Image via sylv1rob1/Shutterstock

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