How to Stop a Fight with Your Partner Before It Starts

One partner sits on sofa, upset, while other partner, turns away to windowIs your relationship or marriage being destroyed by constant bickering and fighting? If you want your partnership to survive, you’re probably going to have to learn how to discuss the problems between you—without things becoming a scream-fest.

Here’s how to pull it off:

1. Notice When and How You’re Getting Angry

Once you’ve blown your top, it’s too late to start in with the anger management techniques. You’re already past the point of no return and in that zone where you’re doing things you know are irrational and unlikely to help the situation, such as calling him names, telling her she’s just like her mother, and dredging up past mistakes—you know what I’m talking about.

In order to avoid a full-blown argument, you’ve got to catch it before it starts. Start paying attention to your personal anger gauge. What happens to you when you get mad? Do you feel hot? Clench your fists? Grit your teeth? Feel tightness in your chest? Once you are aware of what your body does when you get upset, you can start recognizing the signals that an explosion is coming.

2. Change Course

When you notice your emotional temperature rising, you still have time to modify your trajectory. Take a few deep breaths to interrupt your body’s ramping up to fight-or-flight mode. Stop talking and ask yourself, “Is this going to lead where I want?” Bring your partner into the loop: “Wait—we’re headed toward a fight. Let’s recalibrate here.”

If your partner is heating up too, you may get an angry snap in response, but don’t give up: “I really want to solve this. We’re not going to do it by yelling at each other. Let’s both try.” If both of you can get on the same page of wanting to fix the problem and being willing to work at it, you have a much better chance of success.

3. Take a Time-Out, Then Come Back and Get to Work

While you’re out, do not think about the issue. Don’t come up with the next comeback, don’t try to figure out the solution. Just calm down.

If one or both of you is too worked up to bring the conversation back down to a workable level, you may have to take a “time-out.” Leave the room or even the premises if need be. However, let your partner know you are coming back. Running away from the problem does not make it better. Taking a break and then coming back to resolve it can. So give your partner a specific time you will be back or will resume talking about the issue—20 minutes is a good minimum, 48 hours a possible maximum. If you say 20 minutes but still aren’t ready by then, you must come back anyway and say you need more time. Giving your partner the sense you’re abandoning ship will not help.

Even better, lay out a plan for taking breaks in advance so when an argument begins to build and one of you needs to take a time-out, it doesn’t come as a surprise to the other.

While you’re out, do not think about the issue. Don’t come up with the next comeback, don’t try to figure out the solution. Just calm down. Think about baseball, puppies, or whatever does it for you. The goal is to calm down enough to go back to work on the issue.

This approach is not foolproof. It’s not a recipe for solving all problems. But it can be an effective strategy in times of relationship distress. If you find that you and/or your partner can’t seem to get a handle on your anger, or that even when you do you’re gridlocked on the issues in your relationship, it might be time to seek out a counselor for professional help.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, therapist in Baltimore, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Pat

    Pat

    October 4th, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    I don’t know why but it makes me madder when my husband tries to walk away and diffuse the situation. I know that he is probably trying to keep from saying things that he might regret later but honestly it just makes me even angrier than it would if he would just stay and let us work it out right then and there.

  • Raffi Bilek

    Raffi Bilek

    October 4th, 2016 at 6:14 PM

    Hi Pat,
    It’s interesting that you start with “I don’t know why…” – I think that figuring out why might help you better deal with this kind of situation! If your husband is too agitated to properly work things out right then and there, his staying around is only going to make things worse. Sometimes you just CAN’T work it out on the spot, much as you would like to. If your husband is trying to make the best of the situation, it might be worth your exploring what gets you so upset about this so that you can better manage it in the future.

  • Cara

    Cara

    October 4th, 2016 at 1:36 PM

    I am not usually the kind of gal who willback down from a fight, but there are times when you simply have to choose your battles. I know when the chances are good that I will win my case and then I can also tell when there is a lot less likelihood that I will make any sort of impact.
    Yes there will be days when it is harder to walk away, but knowing when those moments are part of what being a real adult is all about.

  • Tres

    Tres

    October 5th, 2016 at 10:06 AM

    You might not always just wish to stop the fight. Sometimes it can be for the best just to fight over something and get it out and over with.

  • Raffi Bilek

    Raffi Bilek

    October 5th, 2016 at 10:45 AM

    The alternative I am suggesting to having the fight in the moment is not pushing the fight until later – it is comnig back together when you are calmer and then having a productive discussion instead of a fight. Fights where people are yelling at each other (or worse) almost never lead to a situation that is better afterwards. If you can hold off on letting your anger out and then have a productive conversation later, everyone is much better off. Of course, you need to know how to have a productive conversation about a touchy subject. And that is exactly what couples counseling helps with.

  • Sharon

    Sharon

    October 5th, 2016 at 1:42 PM

    Hello, Me and My boyfriend keeps on arguing these days. Even after the argument he wouldn’t realised what he did wrong, he will keep silent and never call me back or convince me how dark my life is when he stay quiet..he will go off for a week or may be for a month because I am the only one who calls him and make things alright and he will disrespect me at my first call than I have to cry and begged than only he stays back. Last Time we argued because of his no attention towards me..again he went off..after one day of silent I texted him apologizing…than next day he called me but I could not pick his call because i was in no mood..i was empty and lost. Than again next day he is silent, than I texted him trying to explain whole relationship thing and telling him how I felt so bad and also how I love him. Than in morning he texted me…again I felt lost and I texted him mid at night…today he response me well in the morning, he started talking how sorry he was..but for me I could not accept that I was really upset and was in dark and I wanted him to understand and realised and meant his sorry for me..so with no mood I asked him a question did u even realised? Than he got angry again and demanded me with a question whether I want this relationship or not? I said u say…he said I dont want relationship and goodbye..to this I felt more in pain and ask him to give me a reason…he said you have lost my respect, he said when I am trying to convey a regards and make things alright why with such questions as if you don’t want to continue…he even said I miss you so much u dont know that…he acted he doesn’t want me and also want me….i dont know what is it….please help me I want to gain his respect and I want to be loved as i have love him so much..tell me how can I save this relationship and make him love and what mistake iam doing?..

  • Raffi Bilek

    Raffi Bilek

    October 5th, 2016 at 2:59 PM

    Hi Sharon,
    This really sounds like a bigger issue than can be answered in this format. I recommend searching this site to find a therapist in your area who can help you work through this.

  • blake

    blake

    October 6th, 2016 at 6:45 AM

    There are always going to be those people who are just itching for a fight.
    These are the people that you do not need in your life.

  • Michaela

    Michaela

    October 7th, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    There have been times when I have seriously called for a time out in the middle of an argument just so I can have a minute to get all my thoughts together. I don’t want to say something in the heat of the moment and then have to turn around and take it back or even worse not be able to make the pain go away that the words have caused. It is better for me when I can take a step back from the emotion of the argument and think things through rationally.

  • brooke

    brooke

    October 10th, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    MY boyfriend tells me I am being immature but to me he wants to over analyze and discuss every single thing ad nauseum and I am just like give me a break, let it go and move on.

  • Lindsay

    Lindsay

    October 11th, 2016 at 10:34 AM

    Actually I find it much more helpful to go ahead and say what needs to be said instead of holding it in. In my experience it is the holding it all in that eventually causes the most pain and resentment.

  • Raffi Bilek

    Raffi Bilek

    October 11th, 2016 at 11:16 AM

    I am definitely not recommending holding it in! You are right that that rarely helps anyone. However, my point is that if you decide to let loos when you’re angry and worked up, you are also unlikely to help the situation. Taking a time-out and coming back an hour or a day later allows you to “say what needs to be said” in a way that is much more likely to bring a positive resolution.

  • Tina

    Tina

    July 24th, 2017 at 3:20 PM

    My husband has borderline personality issues along with narcissism. Makes for very interesting times when he’s angry. Trying to take a time out ESCALATES the issue for him. Telling him I won’t stand for disrespect yields MORE disrespect. Trying humor means I’m not sympathetic to his anger concern. Listening to him go on for hours is what he wants but I can’t put up with hours of a self-deluded pity party. The quickest way to make it go away is to jump into it, let him do his battle, then he’ll apologize. It’s not sincere, not ever. But it’ll be over for a while. It’s hell.

  • Raffi Bilek

    Raffi Bilek

    July 25th, 2017 at 5:58 AM

    Hi Tina,
    That is a pretty concerning situation. If your husband really has borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder, that is a tremendous barrier to overcome. I hope you are taking care of yourself and also making sure you are safe. Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like some further guidance – baltimoretherapycenter.com/contact/

  • Marian

    Marian

    August 7th, 2018 at 12:41 PM

    My husband is very aggressive. He puts me down in sometimes subtle ways and sometimes overly exaggerated ways. If something is not cleaned perfectly or done perfectly he screams about it and always has something to say to make me feel bad about myself. If my two kids (3 and 5 years old) act up, or don’t pay attention to him, as most kids need to be told twice to do something anyway, he lashes out and does not try to explain things to them in a fether-like manner but more of a dictating manner. He does the same with me, treats me like a five year old who should just ‘know better’ than to not do something perfectly the first time. This only scratches the surface of what’s going on, although any insight on how to deal with this would be much appreciated.

  • Tanven Islam

    Tanven Islam

    November 5th, 2018 at 9:52 PM

    Hi, My husband loves me a lot . But he is a angry man. Even in simple issues he always in angry mood. I feel so insecure and tired to convince him.

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