We've all been there. It starts with a forgotten chore or a snippy tone and then it escalates. Maybe you're stressed for other reasons. Maybe there are simmering resentments. Maybe it's the 67th time you've discussed the issue, but for whatever reason a tiny problem ends up flaming out of control and you find yourself in the middle of a heated argument with your significant other.
Getting back to a healthier perspective is important. After all, science shows that happy relationships not only contribute hugely to career success, but are also the best predictor of life satisfaction and happiness. So how do you manage to tamp things down and see the conflict with cooler eyes again?
Before you invest time and money in therapy, you might want to try out a simple trick recommended by a recent study first. The research revealed a straightforward question that can instantly derail most fights.
"How will I feel in one year about this current conflict?"
We all know that when we get angry, minor problems suddenly seem hugely important. We also all know how hard it can be in the moment to rein in that emotion and be more rational. But according to research out of Yale and Canada's University of Waterloo, asking yourself this question can help: "How will I feel in one year about this current conflict?"
When the researchers had people reflect on a recent fight in light of how they would feel about the argument a year in the future, they found participants both felt more positive about their relationships in general and expressed more reasonable and forgiving opinions about the conflict.
"Our study demonstrates that adopting a future-oriented perspective in the context of a relationship conflict--reflecting on how one might feel a year from now--may be a valuable coping tool for one's psychological happiness and relationship well-being," commented study co-author Alex Huynh.
Now all you have to do is muster the presence of mind to remember to ask yourself this question in the midst of a heated argument.
Your future self is smarter than your current self.
Doing so is probably worth it though, and not just because one study suggests it helps stop arguments with your partner from flaming out of control. A whole body of research shows that your imagined future self is generally a whole lot wiser than your biased, emotional current self.
For example, one Wharton study asked study subjects to imagine themselves in 20 years and then write their current self a letter from that perspective. After reading these letters participants were far less likely to engage in ethically dicey behavior, such as buying a computer they knew might be stolen.
"If you have important goals, habits, and ideals you want to live by, the science is in," noted one write-up of this research. "You can help yourself stick to them by writing yourself a letter. And, just like the research has shown, thinking about the distant future works better than thinking about the near term."
So next time you feel yourself drifting away from your ideals or your vision for your best self in your relationship or in general, try to remember this trick and ask what future you would make of your current behavior. You'll likely see things in a new and more measured light.