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Squabbles happen. And while the size and proportion of the argument can vary (from “he left the dishes in the sink for the last time!” to “wait, you said what to your mother?”), there is a consistent set of rules that still apply if you want to fight fair.

RELATED: The 5-Second Trick to Ending a Fight

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Timing Is Everything

That recurring fight about the dishes? While it might feel logical to lodge a complaint the moment you notice the offending action, take a beat and ask yourself the following questions first: What’s happening? (For example, are you off to work or off to bed?) What’s your partner doing? (Cramming for a big presentation at the office? Putting the kids to bed?) And last—but not least—has everyone eaten? (Seriously, hanger is so, so real.) The bottom line: You need to be in the right place or frame of mind to discuss and problem-solve an issue. If not, it’s a waste of time and, frankly, your breath.

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Use “I Feel” Statements vs. “You Are” Statements

When you’re mid-dispute with your spouse, blame is not the way you want to go. But the more you throw out “you are” statements, the more your partner is likely to get defensive and go on the attack. “I feel” keeps the attention on you and keeps an open—and much more positive—dialogue.

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Keep Tabs on Your Volume

The fastest way to escalate an argument is to talk louder…and louder. The more even-keeled your voice, the more even-keeled the argument. (It’s also a lot less draining.)

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For Every Minute You Speak, Spend Two Minutes Listening

Flash back to your high school debate class: If you didn’t actively listen to the other person’s point of view, the chances were slim that you’d be able to make your point. In addition, failure to listen often means failure to compromise. When you truly make an effort to hear the other person out—a person who, ding, ding, ding, is also on your team—the quicker you’ll be able to resolve what you’re fighting about.

RELATED: The One Thing You Can Do to Be a Better Listener

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Never Argue in Front of the Kids

This one’s non-negotiable. And also goes back to timing. Hashing out a major dispute while your kids are in tow not only means you have a peanut gallery of little listeners eager to weigh in, but can also put undue stress and pressure on them. (God forbid they feel the need to choose sides.)

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Make a Joke

So, you’ll have to tune into your partner’s sensitivities to pull this one off, but diffusing an argument with humor can lighten the mood and break the tension at a time when you both need it the most.

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Say You’re Sorry

You timed the conversation right, you expressed your feelings and you listened. Now, as it turns out, you were the one in the wrong. Oops. It speaks volumes when you're able to put your pride aside and own up to your role in the problem. And none of those fake apologies, Ms. I'm Sorry You Feel That Way. A sincere apology ("I'm so sorry I yelled and left the kitchen a mess") can work wonders.

RELATED: 9 Tiny Things That Will Make Your Relationship So Much Better

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