How to Stop Fighting so Much, According to Relationship Experts
Ease the tension in your relationship and learn how to resolve conflict with advice from our relationship and dating experts.
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, especially in a romantic relationship. These conflicts do not necessarily signal you’re with the wrong person or that your relationship will not last. However, how often you fight and the intensity of the fight may be telling of how both partners feel in the relationship.
“Persistent fighting takes love and transforms it into hatred, bitterness, anger, frustration—and ultimately, contempt,” explains Patrick Wanis, PhD, behavior and relationship expert in Los Angeles and Miami. We’re currently completing a survey, The Break-Up Test, and 3,205 participants have shared details about the reason why they split with their last partner. The top reason that women cited in my research about why they broke up with their partner: ‘We argued constantly.’ For men, this was number two.”
Yes, every couple fights. Conflict—and eventually overcoming them—is a sign of a healthy, productive, communicative relationship. But if you start to feel like you can’t speak your mind around your partner, in fear of starting an argument, that’s a red flag, says Maria Sullivan, dating expert and the vice president of Dating.com in New York City. (By the way, these 15 types of arguments might signal the beginning of the end.)
“In a healthy relationship, you should be able to talk freely without feeling judged. If you begin to feel like you’re walking on eggshells there might be a deeper issue in the relationship,” Sullivan says.
At the beginning of a healthy relationship, you get creative with how you express your love. If the relationship begins to fizzle and fights bubble up, “both parties tend to take that same creative energy to express hatred for each other in the worst way possible. If you’re arguing more than you are enjoying each other’s company, complimenting each other, being kind, nurturing, empathetic, or compassionate toward each other, then that’s too much,” Wanis says.
Ease the tension in your relationship and learn how to resolve conflict the healthy way with advice from our relationship and dating experts.
Examine your role within the conflict
If you find yourself on the verge of starting a fight, seek answers internally first, says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City. “Look within yourself. What role did you play? Be willing to apologize if you were wrong,” she says. Bringing up a pointless point of contention—or not being honest with yourself about what you did to help create the issue—can be a major danger sign.
“This triggers resentment,” Sullivan says. “If you fight too much in a relationship you run the risk of forgetting why you fell in love with your partner, and everything they do might start to annoy you to the point where you don’t want to be around them. Having this resentment or annoyance in a relationship will cause it to end—and not in a civil way.”(Find out if motivational interviewing can help resolve your disputes.)
Know the warning signs a fight may be imminent
If you’re in a mental spat spin cycle (rue, ruminate, repeat) then you know a fight may be brewing.
“Instead of spitting out your thoughts, excuse yourself from the conversation and write down your thoughts in a journal to get them out of your mind. This way, you are still able to share your thoughts but you can avoid a potentially unnecessary fight,” Sullivan says.
Tune in to your partner, too. If he or she is rolling eyes, huffing and puffing, exhibiting hostile body language, loudly slamming doors, speaking rapidly or loudly, gesturing dramatically, pacing, giving you one-word answers, or pretending to be preoccupied, a fight might be on the horizon, Hafeez says. You can either meet them at that level with a similar attitude of anger or annoyance, or try to diffuse it by giving the person space or trying to lead with understanding.
Think about your goal with bringing up the potentially spat-starting topic
If you feel yourself sliding towards a fight, press pause. It’s vital to pick your battles wisely, Sullivan says.
What is my intention and motivation?
Is this really worth fighting about?
Am I aware of what you want to say and achieve with the discussion?
Before you start arguing, get clear about what you want from the argument, Wanis adds.
Do you want to be vindicated, validated and told that you’re right?
Do you want your partner to change something that they’re doing?
Do you want your partner to understand the pain, humiliation, guilt, or shame that you experienced?
Do you want more compassion or support from your partner?
Don’t take low blows (AKA fight fair)
While the quantity of arguments can be a relationship red flag, what matters even more is how you argue—and how you resolve a conflict. Follow these fight dos and don’ts from Wanis and Hafeez:
Deal with the actual issue at hand—and make it obvious that you care about the actual relationship rather than just caring about getting your way
Accept responsibility for your actions
Focus on expressing more forgiveness, compassion, empathy and more love
Listen clearly to what your partner is trying to say
Take deep breaths
Be thoughtful about your choice of words and body language
Use “I” statements to express your feelings
Attack each other personally
Bring up the past
Raise your voice
Argue when you are intoxicated (or your partner is)
Respond to everything with a comeback
Smother your partner if he or she just needs space
If things get heated, take a timeout
Say some of those “don’ts” do get used within your fight.
“The most effective way to respond when emotions get heated is to respectfully tell your partner that you need to walk away from the conversation to collect your thoughts,” Sullivan says.
Wanis suggests saying, “I think that this argument is turning into something that’s going to be hurtful for both of us. Can we please take a break and revisit this in 15 minutes?” or “We both care about and love each other. Let’s take a break so that we can lower the level of intensity of our emotions.“
Then take a walk on your own, try to take your mind off of the argument, and allow yourself to reach a more relaxed mindset.
That old advice is true: Never go to bed angry
While it might not always be possible to resolve every point of a conflict before bed, at least let your partner know that you love him or her and that you’ll work as a team to find a solution. Sleeping on the conflict and negative emotions embeds them deeper within your brain, according to a 2016 study in Nature Communications.
“It is really bad to go to bed without making up first. When you’re going to sleep, your final thoughts would be negative thoughts towards your partner. Unwittingly, you’re going to be cultivating those thoughts while you’re sleeping. So instead of anchoring and associating positive thoughts towards your partner, you’re going to be anchoring and associating negative thoughts towards your partner. And your partner is probably doing the same thing,” Wanis says.
You’ll wake up with negative thoughts and emotions that might impact not only your relationship with each other, but also with your children and people at work.
Compromise is key
No relationship is perfectly harmonious.
“You won’t always agree with your partner—and that’s OK, because you aren’t the same person,” Sullivan says.
Learn to compromise and aim to find the best mutual solution. For example, if you prefer beach vacations but your partner is an avid skier, alternate hot and cold getaways.
“There must be give and take. Remember you aren’t perfect. If you can realize that you are not a perfect person, then you will accept that your partner is not either,” Hafeez says.
Ask for outside help, if necessary
An objective source can make all the difference to help you both fight nice(r). Reach out for professional guidance from a relationship counselor or therapist if your war of words becomes personal, nasty, or persistent.
“If you can’t communicate constructively without a fight, stop having sex, lead separate lives and only speak or do ‘couple things’ when it’s an obligation, or either partner is abusing food, drugs, or alcohol to cope, seek help,” Hafeez says.
- Patrick Wanis, PhD, behavior and relationship expert in Los Angele and Miami
- Maria Sullivan, a dating expert and the vice president of Dating.com in New York City
- Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City
- Nature Communications: "Memory Consolidation Reconfigures Neural Pathways Involved in the Suppression of Emotional Memories"