It feels like you’re stuck on a merry-go-round. You’re making no progress, things are getting heated and you’re starting to say things that you don’t mean. You can’t explain what you need to your partner or spouse, and trying to talk things through only leads to more fighting.
We all do it! Conflict in any relationship is completely normal.
But how do you stop an argument and calm down enough to reach the point where you can communicate with your spouse—without fighting?
Particularly if you are a couple who argue constantly, it may seem difficult to imagine a life where you can communicate in your relationship without fighting.
But I promise—it is possible.
To give you a head-start, I’ve put together five simple, effective, and proven steps to help get your husband or wife to understand what you need and to stop the cycle of fighting. Understanding and practicing these important communication techniques can help bridge some of those tense moments when trying to talk things through only leads to more fighting, and help you come out of those hard conversations with your husband, wife, or partner feeling appreciated and understood.
But before that you can break that barrier, it’s important that you understand the difference between arguing and communicating.
The difference between arguing and communicating
Many of the married couples I work with in my practice don’t understand the subtle difference between arguing and communicating. Arguing is that part of the confrontation where you’re the most angry. Tension builds and suddenly everything escalates. Your instinct is either to stand your ground and fight, or to run away—both natural responses from our “fight or flight” system.
When we feel threatened, even just verbally or emotionally, the logical part of our brain temporarily shuts down in order to protect ourselves against the attack, figuring out how to return us to an emotionally safe place. This system doesn’t only activate during threats of physical danger—it also activates when we’re emotionally angry, so any perceived attack from your partner will trigger this response.
The problem with this reaction, though, is that it prevents us from effectively communicating what we need.
“This isn’t my fault” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about” may feel like natural ways to defend yourself but also means that we get stuck in a cycle of constant arguing.
The difficulty in getting to that calm point often comes down to two issues:
- We don’t always know what it is that we need in order to de-escalate an argument; and
- Even if we do understand what we need, it can be a challenge to verbalize that with your partner so that they too understand what you need.
No two people operate in the same way. You’re trying to figure out what you both need and how you can help each other to calm down in order to reach a more effective communication space and work everything out—but you can’t do that if you’re still in the heat of an argument.
Five proven steps to communicate without fighting
So how do we stop fighting and begin communicating? You need to reactivate that part of your brain by calming down the physical defense response that you’re having. Easier said than done though, right?
Getting there takes time and hard work. But when you practice these communication exercises as a couple, you will start to see progress and reach a point where you can talk to your partner about any relationship problems without fighting.
Here’s what you need to do:
#1: Learn what your needs are first
First, make sure you fully understand what you’re needing to get out of your argument. Land learning what works best for you is crucial in being able to come back to baseline where that logical part of your brain is back online.
There are plenty of ways to recalibrate when you’re feeling stuck in that “fight or flight” place.
Take a minute, sit down and ask yourself “what calms me down?” when you’re upset.
That could be listening to music, taking a short walk, calling a friend or playing with your dog.
#2: Let the storm pass
In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to try to fix everything straight away. Unfortunately, though, during or immediately after an argument is actually one of the worst times to do it!
When you’re stuck in defensive mode, fighting and yelling, it’s much harder to make any progress towards a real solution.
When you’re both angry and upset, neither of you will say the most productive thing to change the situation as your brains are focused on protecting you from a threat, not learning and processing.
Instead, give yourselves time and space to relax before you sit down to figure out what happened. Take some time to cool off and let a little time pass before trying to resolve your problem. And when you’re ready to talk, you can move on to our next tip—how to communicate what you need to your partner.
#3: Be specific about what you need
When you’ve been with your partner for a while, it’s easy to assume that they know what you’re thinking or vice versa. But what you need isn’t always what your partner needs—and unfortunately, none of us are mind readers (at least, I haven’t met a couple yet who could!).
Once you know what it is that calms you down and returns you to your baseline, tell your partner.
By clearly communicating “when I’m upset, I need X”, you are helping your partner to understand you and your needs better. On the flipside, practice your active listening skills and truly hear what your partner needs from your arguments as well.
Here’s one example: “when I’m really upset, I need to go out for a quick walk. I need my own space.” Or on the other hand “when I’m upset, I really need you to be with me, give me a hug and tell me that everything’s okay.” It’s really important to be this clear with your partner and, conversely, be open to hearing what their needs are.
By sharing with each other, you can help get to that place of overcoming poor communication together.
#4: Agree on a plan
When you’re in that part of the fight when you’re both upset and need to calm down, it’s important to also reflect on what your partner needs at that moment.
Working with your partner to agree to one thing you’re each willing to try.
By agreeing on one thing to try, you’ll be better equipped to help each other resolve the next argument more quickly.
Every couple uses different communication styles. For example, say you shared with your partner “I really need to know that you’re paying attention and that you care about this. When you walk away from me, I panic.”
Your partner’s response could be “I agreed to let you know that I need space and that I’m not walking away from the fight. I want to figure this out but I’m just not in that head space right now. I need a walk before I can really think this through.”
Knowing these agreed plans ahead of time can help to de-escalate the argument and return you both to a calmer place where a solution can be reached.
#5: Recognize your partner’s efforts
Great relationships go both ways – it’s important to give your partner credit for the effort they’re putting in as well.
During your next argument, take time to acknowledge the effort your partner is putting in.
Make sure you mention any changes you see them making that are helping to improve your communication together. For example, “thank you for trying that, I really appreciate it. I know it’s hard for you to give me space when we’re both upset but it helped me to calm down and talk about this.”
Verbalizing your genuine appreciation when your partner is trying something new, particularly if it may be hard for them, goes a long way to building healthy communication skills and avoiding future conflict.
Taking control over your natural defensive response when you’re already angry or upset is never easy.
But by working through these communication exercises, you will hopefully move from a place of escalated fighting and saying hurtful words that you don’t mean to a more calm discussion, where you can use the logical part of your brain to make progress for the future on some of those issues.
If you’re having trouble knowing how to communicate with your husband, wife, or partner without fighting, you’re not alone. Grab a copy of my free guide with 6 communication skills to improve your relationship, and learn how to improve your relationship communication skills and get closer as a couple today. And if your relationship needs one-on-one support, then seeing an expert couples therapist can be a great option.
I know you can do it!
Sarah Tie is an expert couples counselor and the owner of Winding Path Counseling in Denver, CO. She’s passionate about helping new moms and dads survive and thrive during the difficult transition to parenthood. You can find Sarah at https://windingpathcounseling.com.