I've typically been the hotheaded type, so I've learned not to let things get heated in the first place. As soon as I recognize defensiveness in myself or someone else, I usually say something like, "It's clear we can't agree. I'm going to leave for a little while." I drive to a nearby park or go to another room until I can get centered enough to give good consideration to these questions:
- Is my relationship with this person more important to me than the topic of the argument?
- Does that person value the relationship or the topic more? Should they?
- Depending on the answers to those questions, what should I do about the situation?
My husband and I rarely disagree, but he got pretty critical and judgmental last week, and it culminated last night. I'd asked him twice before if he was feeling stressed (no) or mad at me for some reason (no). I finally made a list of his snarky comments - a dozen within three days - and tried to talk with him. He responded by justifying his behavior, so I left for a while.
When I returned, he again tried to justify his behavior. I calmly told him that I believed his response showed me that he feels justified in hurting our relationship as long as he thinks his own attitude is right, which is something I can't agree with doing. He immediately changed gears, apologized, and went on to tell me a story that revealed he'd done the same thing with a coworker unfairly. Then he figured out what has been subtly adding stress that he hadn't realized he was feeling.