Say you are fighting with your significant other. I know. It’s not fun, but it happens. What do you think your partner wants the most from you when you’re fighting?
A. for you to give an apology
B. for you to share control of decision making
C. for you to show more investment in the relationship
D. for you to give affection
Most people guess that their partner just wants a sincere apology from them when there’s an argument. Most people would be wrong!
No Apology Needed?
An apology from you is actually dead last on the list of 6 things that researchers at Baylor University found individuals want when they are arguing with their partners. (It’s still on there, though!) In the order of what your partner really DOES want from you:
1. To share power and control when making decisions
2. To show investment
3. To stop adversarial behavior
4. To communicate more
5. To give affection
6. To make an apology
Actions Over Words
The first 5 things that partners want when they are in conflict are ACTIONS, not WORDS. Don’t be tempted to take the easy way out in a fight and hope that an “I’m sorry” will fix a problem that is much more complex.
You would feel insulted if your ER doctor tried to put a band-aid on a broken leg and tell you that it will all be better now. Don’t insult your partner who is looking for real answers to a problem with an “I’m sorry” or, even worse, the cop-out response “I can’t do anything right.”
What Does YOUR Partner Need?
What will help defuse and help de-escalate a conflict depends on what YOUR partner really needs from YOU. If your partner really needs you to share power and control in the relationship, then yelling and issuing threats or ultimatums will only make things worse.
Asking what your partner thinks and really listening for ways to negotiate and compromise will work better. If your partner really needs you to communicate more, then shutting down and refusing to participate in a civil discussion will make things worse. Being willing to talk, even if you need to make it at another time because you need time to cool off or gather your thoughts, will work better.
It Never Hurts to Ask
No one healthy enjoys conflict in relationships, but if people are being honest with each other, disagreements and conflict are inevitable. How you handle conflict as a couple determines whether you do damage to the relationship trying to fix problems. Damage that may not heal.
Make the goal to try to figure out what your partner really wants from you in a conflict, and do your best to provide that if you can. If you can’t, talk about why that is a problem for you. And if you really have no idea what your partner really wants from you, just ask.
You don’t have to apologize for not being able to read your partner’s mind!
Dr. Anita Sanz, PhD, Psychologist
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