5 Effective Ways to Stop a Fight With Your Partner, According to Therapists
Don't allow a small argument to turn into something bigger.
While you're bound to disagree with your partner from time to time in any relationship, these small disputes don't have to turn into a full-blown fight. The problem is that when we're in the middle of an argument, it often feels like a serious spat is inevitable—and that can do real damage in the long-run. Heated arguments make both parties feel misunderstood and unheard, which may eventually "lead to a breakdown in communication and trust," Kalley Hartman, LMFT, a licensed therapist and clinical director at Ocean Recovery in Newport Beach, California, tells Best Life. To avoid this, experts stress the importance of bringing conflicts down to a manageable level. Read on to discover five effective ways to de-escalate a fight with your partner.
Use "I" statements.
The language you use in an argument matters. In fact, one of the most effective de-escalation tools for relationships requires you to focus on "I" statements, according to Bree Vanley, LPC, a therapist and the owner of Heart Matters Therapy.
"One of the benefits of using 'I' statements is reducing misunderstandings and conflict by reducing blaming, criticizing, or attacking speech that may be used when communicating," she explains.
Laurie Groh, MS, a licensed therapist and the co-owner of Shoreside Therapies in Wisconsin, says this is something you should be doing at the beginning of any dispute. According to Groh, research from notable relationship psychologist John Gottman indicates that the first three seconds of a discussion can dictate how the rest of the entire conversation will go.
"Using a softer way to bring up a complaint [is] better," she says. "An example: Instead of saying, 'Why don't you ever listen to me,' say, 'I would like you to hear me on this.'"
Explain your partner's feelings out loud.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't acknowledge what your partner is saying in an argument. Trisha Wolfe, LPCC, a licensed therapist and the owner of CBUS Therapy, says it's important to verbally summarize your partner's feelings and experiences during disagreements.
"Get in the habit of making statements with clarifying questions like, 'What I hear is that you feel angry that I forgot to pay the credit card bill again. Is that correct?'" she says. "This shows that you are actively listening to your partner's needs and accurately able to reflect back on what's happening in the conversation."
Showing your significant other that you are "making an effort to understand their perspective" can go a long way when it comes to avoiding a fight, according to Katie Adam, a psychologist and mental health first aid trainer at Skills Training Group.
"Try to put yourself in your partner's shoes and see the situation from their perspective the next time you have an argument or engage with them," Adam advises. "By showing the other individual that you respect their position while maintaining your own, [you] can typically de-escalate any situation."
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Pay attention to how you're speaking.
Of course, it's not just what you're saying that can escalate a disagreement. It's also important to pay attention to how you're speaking by "double checking your volume and tone," according to Vanley.
"Yelling can lead to a full-blown fight or your partner shutting down," she notes.
Harman Awal, a dating and relationship expert at Cupid and Cuddles, recommends that couples focus on talking in a calm and low voice when having a contentious conversation. "Easing up on the volume and talking softer can help cool down any scuffle before it gets worse," she explains.
Don't be afraid to apologize.
Apologies are a tool people utilize either too much or not enough. When fighting with a partner, Hartman says it is crucial for you to apologize when it's necessary.
"Sometimes fights spiral because one or both parties are too stubborn to apologize or take responsibility for their part in the argument," she explains. "If you have done something wrong, a simple apology can go a long way in de-escalating the fight."
You should even work on taking responsibility for how you act in an argument during the argument, according to Awal. Sometimes our anger ends up speaking for us first, but that doesn't mean you should let it slide by.
"If something offensive slips out of your mouth before you can stop yourself, apologize right away and explain why what you said was wrong or misguided—even if the other person hasn't realized it yet," she says.
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Hit the pause button.
When in doubt, learn how to walk away from an argument. Simply hitting the pause button can be an effective way to de-escalate a fight with your partner, according to Rachel Kaplan, LCSW, a psychotherapist with her own private psychotherapy practice.
"When emotions are running high and you are feeling reactive, it can be hard to remember that there is space to pause between an emotion and a response or behavior," she says.
Kaplan recommends couples consider picking a code word they can use during spats to let the other person know they need to walk away from the conversation for a moment.
"They can use this word to signify to each other that they need to pause, take some time to cool off, and then can approach the conflict in a more constructive and productive way," she explains.