Arguments in relationships are normal. But when you get into a nasty fight with your better half, it’s easy to lose control. You’re overwhelmed by a whirlwind of emotions: fear, anger, sadness, regret. Often, both of you walk away hurt. Before you or your partner go head to head, take pause. Here are five ways to prevent a fight with your partner before it escalates.
Step 1: Keep Your Anger in Check
Anger isn’t a “bad” emotion. It helps us stand up for ourselves and set boundaries. But when your anger spirals out of control, you risk doing lasting damage to your relationship. If your partner isn’t listening, don’t raise your voice or yell to feel heard. Honestly and clearly state how you feel using “I” statements. For instance, “I feel that you’re not actively listening, and that really hurts.” Pay close attention to your body language: Watch out for trembling palms, teeth grinding, rapid heartbeat, restlessness, and feeling warm.
Step 2: Redirect the conversation
When you lose your cool, you forget that words have consequences. All it takes is one ill-timed insult for a spat to snowball into a fight. Before you get ticked off, stop and consider how your partner might react. If the situation was reversed, how might you feel if your partner yelled at you or said hurtful things? Empathizing with your partner eases your irritation. Better yet, it lets you redirect the conversation in a positive direction. Remind your partner why you want to talk it out: “I love you and I care about us. How can we work together to solve this?”
Step 3: Take a Breather
If things still escalate, don’t let tensions get too high. When you are in an angry state, your body is in panic “fight or flight mode” and all you are thinking about is survival. This means either fighting or fleeing. Not working things out. “I messages” go out the window. You will likely say and do things that you regret–which may have long term consequences.
So if feel your temper rising, tell your partner you need to take a break. Calmly explain that you need a moment alone before you can keep talking.
Make sure you let your partner know you will need a break and will be back in x minutes or x hours. If you leave without saying anything, your partner will view your break as an abandonment. Or not wanting to deal with the issue.
Step 4: Find ways to calm down
This is the hardest part – – once you’ve left the scene, resist the urge to focus on the argument.
Don’t rehash what you or your partner said — focus on getting yourself grounded. Drink a cold glass of water, watch your favorite kitten youtube videos, or go on a short walk. I once had a client who went to Costco when he got into an argument. It helped ground him and he was able to come home calm and ready to talk.
(BONUS Step 5: Talk it Out — and Listen)
Communicating with your partner can be challenging, especially when you feel frustrated or misunderstood. Having a history of lots of arguments in relationships can make the trust shaky. But being vulnerable with your partner brings you closer together. If you need to have a tough talk, prepare by making a list of what you want to discuss. Honor your partner with mindful listening. Maintain eye contact and resist the temptation to interrupt. If you’re confused, repeat what your partner said in your own words. When both of you feel heard, you’re less likely to explode.
Diffusing arguments in relationships takes patience, compassion, and forgiveness. But some arguments are too difficult to solve on your own. If you and your partner are struggling to see eye to eye, seeking professional help is the next best step.
About the author: Lia Huynh, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in the San Jose and Milpitas areas. She has been helping couples to reduce arguments and find love again for over 17 years. Learn more about her here.
Remember Arguments in relationships are completely normal! Its all about how the argument in the relationship is resolved.