Resolving Quarrels

Resolving Quarrels

“Larry and I get along OK a lot of the time, but whenever we talk about who’s doing what or how we’re spending money, the fights can get really intense, sometimes even scary, and they never seem to settle anything.”

Disagreements and grievances are normal in any relationship, whether it’s between two parents, or between two nations or peoples. All too often, though, they get out of hand, leading to hurt feelings, anger, and lashing out.

Your best chance of resolving a quarrel is to do the four things below, even if you just do them yourself. If your partner participates, all the better! But waiting for the other person to do the right thing only leads to gridlock – so your best bet is to take steps yourself, unilaterally if necessary, because that is the best way to evoke good behavior from the other person, take their issues with you off the table, and let you take your stand on the high moral ground.

  1. Protect yourself – Anticipate situations in which you are likely to be let down by the other person, and try to avoid them by developing more support from elsewhere, like other parents. Eliminate abusive or inflammatory language by not using it yourself; instead, try to stay calm, be civil, and speak with good intent. Ask your partner to do the same, and if necessary, let them know that you will withdraw from the conversation if they speak to you in a way that is out of line. Stop fights from escalating by agreeing in advance that either of you can call time out. And if there is any possibility of violent or threatening behavior, contact a therapist, woman’s shelter, or the police.
  2. Assert your needs – Get a reality check on the validity of your needs or issues by talking with people you trust who love and support you. Sort out any over-reactions on your part, and then get serious and determined about the legitimate needs that remain. Identify the specific behaviors from your partner that would address them – both their outward actions and their internal attitudes and intentions.

Then find ways to tell them what you want (while reminding yourself that what you want is legitimate!), such as in ordinary conversation, or by writing a note, leaving a message at work, talking in a neutral place like a restaurant, or involving a third party like a mutual friend, a minister, or a therapist. Stay on your topic and agree to address their issues later. Do not muddy the water by bringing in unrelated grievances, getting overly emotional, or overwhelming the other with words. Be direct, succinct, matter of fact, and self-controlled.

Use genuine humor and warmth to lift the mood. Build on any positive moves they make by being positive yourself and acknowledging progress toward getting what you want. State your understanding of how you each are saying things will be from now on; write them down if that’s clarifying.

  1. Extend the hand of reconciliation – The fastest, most direct way to get another person to behave better and be nicer is to find out what their complaints are and then do everything reasonable to make them go away. It’s not easy, it’s the road less travelled, but it’s the way that works best of all.

Find out what you could do, concretely and specifically, that would make your partner feel better about the situations that bothers the other, or your life in general. Try to set aside your own reactions to answer three questions for yourself: In what ways am I at fault here and should make changes? Separate from being at fault, in what ways could I be more skillful? And separate from matters of fault or skill, how could I simply be more giving or gracious? Then take action steadfastly – with dignity and self-respect, with a sense of choosing to act rather than being forced into anything – to implement the answers to these questions.

  1. Be compassionate – This one is listed last because it’s probably the hardest one to do, but it’s actually the most important of all. Everyone suffers in some way, and you can see the suffering inside another person any time you look – just like he or she can see it inside of you. They’re hurting, and that pain is fuelling their quarrel with you.

By understanding the other’s stresses, anxiety, frustrations, anger, and losses better, you will have more perspective on why they are acting the way they do, and you will be more able to work things out with them peacefully. Also, they will sense your good intentions, and that will draw more understanding and compassion out of them. We all live under the same roof – whether it’s the one over your kitchen or it’s the thin skin of blue sky covering our precious planet – and compassion for the difficult parts of everyone’s life is the foundation of being able to live together.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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