Somebody has to be the big kid.
When I was a kid, growing up in a family of three boys, arguments were not infrequent. Being the middle child, I was sometimes the peacemaker and sometimes the instigator. Often arguments involved statements like “It’s not fair!” and my parents’ response was inevitably “Life is not fair.” One of the most useful things my parents taught us is that “somebody has to be the big kid” – that is, just one of us could end the fight at any time by giving in. Of course, sometimes the “big kid” who let the other have the toy or the extra dessert, etc., would end the argument with a zinger like, “Let the baby have his baby way!”
That said, in adult relationships we know that just a little word or action can start an argument. What most people don’t know, especially when overwhelmed by anger and defensiveness, is that one little sentence can often end the argument. There is no magic here. The issue is that many arguments are not about two people listening to each other, but rather about two people trying to be heard and understood. In that case, it takes just one person to switch gears from defending to reflecting.
Summarizing what you’re hearing can be very powerful in its ability to diffuse an argument, and it only takes a moment.
The challenge comes in letting your guard down (they are just words after all) and really listening to what you’re hearing. Getting past habit and fear may take practice, but the reward is worth it. A great way to learn this new habit is to practice when you’re not in an argument. Take a few minutes and take turns summarizing what you’re hearing your partner say. This will not only help with arguments but it will also help with communications in general.