Holding your partner’s hand during a fight is the simplest and most powerful fighting hack that I’ve discovered. It might just change the way you and your partner argue, forever. Here’s how it’s done: reach for your partner’s hand when things are getting heated in the middle of an argument. Hold it as the fight continues. Change nothing else. This may sound bizarre, but the impact of this small gesture is nothing short of magical.
When you hold your partner’s hand, especially when you’re both angry, your bad feelings are diffused almost immediately. It reminds you that the person you’re fighting with is the same person you chose to spend your life with. It reminds you that you love each other. That you want the best for each other. It changes your perspective. It might even make you realize that whatever you’re fighting about is not that important.
Don’t believe me? Try it and see what happens. The first time you try this technique, it might go something like this:
Fight, fight, fight.
You (in an angry tone): “Give me your hand.”
Your partner: “What?! Why?”
You: “It’s supposed to make us less mad. I read it somewhere.”
Your partner: “That sounds stupid.”
You: “Just hold my hand, damn it!”
Your partner: “Ok ok. Jeesh.”
As you hold hands, a silent and slightly awkward moment will pass between you as you wait for something to happen. Nothing will. You’ll both still be mad, but after a second or two, you might realize you aren’t as mad as you were moments earlier. You may not want to admit it, but you’ll feel it. You might allow your eyes to meet and smile at each other. You might forget what you were fighting about. Or, you might remember and decide to talk through a solution, calmly. Weird, right?
If hand-holding doesn’t end the argument right away, it will help you continue the argument with feelings of love instead of feelings of hate. Just try it. You have nothing to lose! And if it doesn’t work, you certainly won’t be any worse off.
Why does this work?
Holding hands during a fight is a ‘repair attempt’ per relationship expert John M. Gottman, Ph.D., who wrote The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Gottman says he can predict, with 90% accuracy, the likelihood that a newlywed couple will divorce by observing only a fifteen minute argument. The key, he says, is whether repair attempts are successful or not. The examples he gives of repair attempts are things like requesting a break or making a joke. Anything to diffuse and de-escalate the fight. As it turns out, asking to hold hands is one such repair attempt. Gottman says it’s important that the repair attempt be successful. In other words, ignoring a repair attempt means your relationship IS DOOMED. Just kidding. It’s not doomed, but it’s definitely a bad sign. The takeaway: respond positively to repair attempts. Don’t let your stubborn pride get in the way.
But Nelly, I just can’t see myself holding hands during a fight. It’s just never going to happen! I hear you. Hand holding is just one example of a repair attempt. There are lots of other things you could try. A good friend of mine, let’s call her Amelia (not her real name), had a very strong (negative) reaction when I suggested she hold her husband’s hand during a fight.
Amelia: “Oh God, I will NEVER do that!”
Is Amelia’s marriage doomed? No. As it turns out, they have their own repair attempt, which, frankly, sounded as crazy to me as hand-holding sounded to her. In the middle of a fight, Amelia’s husband, Neil, will begin to do an impression of her being angry. He imitates her voice and repeats an exaggerated version of something she’s just said. In his best “Amelia” voice, he’ll say “You forgot to buy groceries so dinner is RUINED! Now we’ll have to eat NOTHING.” Then he’ll quickly turn around, dramatically sweep his imaginary bangs out of his face, and storm out of the room, making sure to swing his hips from side to side while stomping his feet loudly.
I thought this would have enraged Amelia, but it does just the opposite. It makes her laugh. It diffuses the fight almost immediately. The repair attempt is the impression, and her laughter demonstrates its success. Note: If you try this, I take zero responsibility for the consequences! Reminder that my suggestion was holding hands.
If failed repair attempts are actually a good predictor of divorce, then think about the most recent fights you’ve had with your partner and whether or not any repair attempts were made. How did you respond to each other? Were you figuratively trying to hold your partner’s hand while they were imitating your angry face? It’s easy to see how a mismatched approach could cause things to deteriorate quickly. Could you and your partner come to an agreement about something that will universally be recognized as a repair attempt? It could be something as simple as saying “I still love you, even though I’m still mad” or giving their arm a gentle squeeze. Maybe they’ll respond by saying “I still love you, too” or squeeze you back. Try a few different things and see how it goes. Keep what works. Discard what doesn’t.
Give It A Try
If you give hand-holding a try, please let me know if it worked! I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on Twitter (@nellymosstag).
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Until next time, stay safe and healthy,
Very good suggestion and insight.