When you’re in a relationship, arguments come with the territory. Whether it’s his inability to put down the damn toilet seat or his total disdain for the amount of hair you shed on a daily basis, we all have our pet peeves. While we’d love not to sweat the small stuff (and the big stuff, too), it’s much easier said than done. So we asked top relationship therapists to share their secrets for ending a fight in five easy steps.
Step 1: Take some serious deep breaths
As Queen Bey eloquently put it, “hold up.” The best thing to do when you feel your fists tighten is to breathe. “Arguments can trigger our fight-or-flight response, causing us to become adrenalized—that feeling you get when you feel a rush of energy or sick to your stomach,” says psychologist Dr. Jackie Kibler, Ph.D. “Taking deep breaths will return oxygen to your brain and allow you to think more clearly about the situation.”
Step 2: Give each other space and time to diffuse
Time-outs aren’t only for your four-year-old—they can do wonders for you and your partner, too. “This gives each person time to cool down, reflect and come back with cooler heads and clearer thoughts,” says Dr. Nikki Martinez, psychologist and clinical professional counselor. It’s also totally OK to sleep on an issue. Hitting the pillow when you’re pissed is far superior than engaging in a fight you haven't fully processed yet. “Usually, in the morning, the issue doesn’t feel nearly as important,” Martinez says.
Step 3: Actually listen to what your partner is saying
When all you want to do is get your point across, it's tough to give your partner the mic. But experts say this strategy is great for both of you. “Instead of just holding your breath until you can make your point, try really listening and mirror back to him what you understand about their position,” suggests Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman, psychologist. “This way, he’ll feel understood, validated and is more likely to calm down and listen to you, too.” This doesn’t mean you should abandon your feelings or needs, but it will remind your partner that you love and respect him.
Step 4: Talk about how his actions make you feel
Armed with insight, come back and own up to your side of the situation. Especially when you’ve just thoughtfully given your partner the floor, he or she has no choice but to respectfully do the same. “Human beings are really good when you give them a positive, specific and actionable step to help you,” explains Dr. Mike Dow, psychotherapist. So turn “You never consider my side of the story” into: “What would really help me is if you did the dishes on the nights I’m working so I don’t have to do them when I get home.”
Step 5: Work toward a compromise
Remember: Even the most stable relationships involve some give and take. “Instead of focusing on ‘winning’ the argument, try to consider how you can come to an agreement and meet somewhere in the middle,” says Dr. Sherman. “Putting the needs of your relationship above your individual needs can solve whatever it is that you are fighting about.” Another easy way to consider compromise: Stop and think about the consequences of letting the argument go any further. Think about the life you share, the history you have and the future you want. Those dishes don’t seem so important anymore, right?