9. Be an equal-time advocate. Making sure each of you has the same opportunity to discuss concerns and solution ideas creates a sense of equality and shared power. If you tend to dominate, speak a little less and listen longer. Encourage your partner to say more. If you feel you’re getting short shrift, gently hold your ground if your partner interrupts or tries to move the discussion along too swiftly.
10. Take time-outs early and often. As soon as one of you feels too upset or negative to follow healthy problem-solving steps, it’s time to take a break. Experts say agreeing ahead of time to take a time-out if one partner becomes overwhelmed is crucial for avoiding a downward spiral you’ll only regret later. Include in your agreement the understanding that you’ll get back to your discussion within 24 hours. Some couples use a sports signal, such as the “T” sign coaches use, to indicate they need a break. Stop the discussion right away (no negotiating!), go to separate rooms or outdoors and calm down. Take a walk, read a book, cook a meal. Don’t spend your time ruminating about the conversation or having bad thoughts about your spouse. Before you talk again, first share an everyday activity together to re-establish a close, calm connection, Heitler suggests.
Five Ways to Sidestep a Fight
These strategies can stop a fight before it starts.
- See things from your partner’s point of view.
- Count to 50 before you say anything incendiary. This pause will help you calm down just long enough to think better of it.
- Don’t throw verbal bombs. Avoid put-downs, personal attacks, judgments, criticism, and blaming — as well as sulking, interrupting, and stomping out of the room.
- Ask yourself if you can — and should — solve the problem on your own.
- Skip heavy conversations before breakfast and from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. — because nobody should argue on an empty stomach. And ban problem-solving talks after about 8 p.m. Fatigue starts many fights!
Three Ways to Defuse a Runaway Argument
These tension-tamers can short-circuit an argument that’s getting too hot to handle.
- Use anger as a red-alert sign to stop the discussion. Walk away and use meditation, exercise, or another pleasant activity to de-stress.
- Reconnect frequently during tough conversations. Use empathy and appreciation to stay close to your spouse. And be on the lookout for your spouse’s attempts to heal or avoid breaches.
- Soothe yourself and your spouse. Breathe deeply, slow down the conversation, and take a few minutes to review all the positive steps you’ve taken together to solve the problem already. Share your feelings. The more effectively you can soothe yourself and each other, the more productive your problem-solving session can be.