This Is the Easiest Way to Diffuse an Argument, According to Psychologists

Dacy Knight
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Timur Emek/Getty Images

It's when we're in the middle of an argument that we're least likely to turn to problem-solving strategies—seeking compromise, taking the other person's perspective, trying to forgive. Yet psychologists have consistently found that by distancing yourself from your present emotions mid-conflict, you're better able to implement these reasoning strategies to find a solution.

Author Alex C. Hyunh of the University of Waterloo in Canada and his colleagues, Igor Grossmann, also of Waterloo, and Daniel Yang of Yale University, looked into how thinking about the future could lead to better reasoning strategies during interpersonal conflicts. During their studies, they asked 499 undergraduate students and adults across the United States to recount a relationship conflict they recently experienced with a romantic partner or close friend. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to think about how they were feeling in the present moment and the other half to think about how they would feel about the conflict in a year. Both groups were asked to write down their thoughts and describe their feelings about their relationships.

Those who were asked to think about the conflict in the present moment were focused on recounting the event and the emotions they were currently feeling, unable to put the experience in context. On the contrary, those who were instructed to think about the future were more aware of the bigger picture and focused less on recounting the actual conflict. They were better able to practice adaptive reasoning strategies such as forgiveness and assigning less blame. They demonstrated greater insight, describing more positive emotions toward their conflict partner and more optimism that their relationship would recover and improve. Huynh reports that the results did not vary across age or gender and were consistent for both close friendships and romantic relationships.

So the next time you find yourself in an argument with your close friend or romantic partner, it might be worth taking a time out to think about how you'll feel about all of it in a year.

Head to the comments to let us know what you think of this strategy, and then discover the one thing all long-lasting couples do.

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