The difference between an argument and a fight is that in a fight, you say things you’ll regret. Things that will hurt the other person, that will stick in both of your minds until they come up again in later fights. Reddit user Valuable_Armadillo has a trick to avoid this: Whenever you’re in the heat of an argument, imagine you’re being recorded.
To make this trick work, you need to drill the “I’m being recorded” feeling into your head. Picture the last fight where you said something you regret. (Not the last time you acted in righteous fury that still makes you proud. We’re only talking about fights that you wish you hadn’t had.)
Now picture a video camera pointed at you. Maybe there’s a camera crew, or maybe there’s a security camera on the wall with a little red LED that just flickered on. Someone’s watching and listening.
Think about seeing yourself on video. Think about having to re-live this fight the next time things are going well. Think of other people in your life watching this video, and how humiliated you’d be. Who’s the person you’d least want to hear what you said? Your friends? Your family? Your partner? Your in-laws? Your nemesis? Picture them watching this video in front of you.
If you do it right, that thought experiment should be horrifying! Horrifying enough that once you do it a few times (oh god), you associate fighting with that entire vision of being recorded.
Now in your “I’m being recorded” vision, think about saying things differently. Picture yourself calming down, and listening to what the other person’s saying. Imagine the other person calming down as well, responding to your own calm. Picture the fight becoming a boring, reasonable discussion. Picture the camera turning away to find some better drama.
Do this so that next time an argument gets heated, you think of that camera turning on. So that you catch yourself and you slow down, and talk as if you had an audience. Don’t play to the imaginary camera — any passive-aggressive stuff would be obvious to anyone watching. Act like it’s your job to make the camera go away, by turning off the drama.
This will require you to listen to the other person, to think carefully about what they’re saying, and to calibrate your response. It will take you back out of the “I need to win this” mindset and into the “we need to get along” mindset. A lot of the escalation in a fight comes from interpreting each other’s words in the most antagonistic way, so you can be the “hero” of the fight.
If you switch to a “get along” mindset, you’ll interpret everything the other person says more generously and fairly. And that makes it much less likely that you say something stupid, wrong or hurtful. It makes it way more likely that you walk away getting something you wanted.
And be thankful your fights aren’t getting recorded. As redditor GLITCHEDMATRIX says, “I once recorded myself arguing and didn’t realise how wrong I was until after watching it.”