How to Stop the Cycle of Fighting In a Relationship, According to a Therapist

Learn the core skills you need to argue in a healthy way.
Couple sitting on a couch having an argument
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Alyssa Mancao - The Knot contributor
Alyssa Mancao, LCSW
Alyssa Mancao - The Knot contributor
Alyssa Mancao, LCSW
Therapist & The Knot Wellness Contributor
  • Alyssa Mancao is a licensed psychotherapist with a decade of experience working with individuals and families.
  • She is now the group owner of a private practice on the West Coast.
  • Alyssa specializes in treating anxiety and trauma, while helping her clients set boundaries and improve their communication skills.
Updated Jun 01, 2023

Who remembers when the honeymoon phase was filled with easy, thoughtful communication? While it's normal to want to stay in that space, realistically, your relationship is bound to experience hardships. Left unchecked, these hardships can lead to an ongoing cycle of arguing. However, you and your partner can learn how to stop the cycle of fighting in a relationship and get back to thriving and growing together.

With over a decade of experience as a licensed psychotherapist, I've curated the below list of core skills and communication tips you can use as you learn how to stop fighting in a relationship and argue in a healthy, benefical way instead.

While it's normal to feel anger towards your partner, the way in which we channel and communicate this anger matters. So if you're ready to makeover the way you feud, scroll on.

How To Stop Fighting In a Relationship

If you and your partner are plagued by arguments and bickering, apply the tips below to help stop the fight before it starts.

1. Know Your Triggers

This is the first skill in your relationship tool box that is necessary for preventing the cycle of fighting: Be aware of what gets on your nerves. But that's sometimes easier said than done, since knowing your triggers takes some introspection and self-reflection.

Start by taking a personal inventory and consider the following prompts:

  • What bothers me the most?
  • What situations or behaviors generate a negative response within myself?
  • Pay attention to any patterns in previous fights you've had with your partner and explore what they may represent for you. For example, maybe you don't feel that the split in household chores is fair, and this may represent you feeling unappreciated or undervalued.

    Why is this so important? It helps to be able to communicate both what bothers you and why it bothers you, so that your partner can gain a deeper understanding of what your experience of a situation is. The more aware we are of our triggers, the better that we can communicate them to our partner.

    2. Practice the Pause

    Once you're able to get a sense of what your triggers are, the next step in learning how to stop fighting in a relationship is learning to pause. The urge to say something in the heat of the moment is understandable—but first ask yourself, "Will this be helpful or bring us closer to reconciliation?" If the answer is no, then give yourself some time before communicating what's on your mind. This might sound like: "I want to have this conversation with you, but I'm feeling triggered and need some time to collect my thoughts before we continue."

    It takes practice to get into the habit of pausing. You can start by doing an emotional temperature check. Rank how you're feeling in the moment on a scale of one to 10, with one being neutral or satisfied and 10 being outraged. If anything above a 7 (for example) indicates an inability to engage in a productive conversation, take some space to yourself if you find yourself at that level or above.

    So, what should you do while you're practicing the pause? Anything that helps promote self-regulation. Make a list of calming activities you enjoy, so that you can refer back to them when you're feeling triggered. (In the heat of the moment, it can be tough to remember our coping mechanisms.)

    3. See Your Partner as the Whole Person

    In the chaos of a fight, it's common to view your partner as the "bad" guy. But when we engage in all or nothing thinking, we are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of fighting.

    Practice seeing your partner as a whole person, which includes reminding yourself of the reasons why you chose them to be your partner. Remember: "When in doubt, zoom out."

    4. Plan The Tough Talks

    While it may seem awkward and formal to schedule time for serious chats, the practice can be beneficial. (The influential psychologist Dr. Gottman actually calls them state of the union meetings!)

    When we know that a hard conversation is coming, we'll likely feel less blindsided and therefore more receptive to hearing what the other person has to say. So set up consistent meetings with your partner where you both come equipped with topics for discussion, and also highlight what is working well within your relationship. This allows both parties to communicate from a place of mutual understanding and reduces defensiveness.

    How to Argue Effectively with Your Partner

    Now that you have a better understanding of how to stop the cycle of fighting in a relationship, it's time to learn how to navigate arguments healthily and productively when they do crop up.

    1. Be Clear About Your Goal

    Before addressing an issue, ask yourself what the goal is for the conversation. Examples of conversation goals can be, "I want you to understand where I am coming from," or "I need there to be a plan of action after this." If you don't know what your goal is you can say, "I don't know what I am expecting to come from this conversation, but I know I wanted to say something before it builds up for me."

    Be sure to bring up this intention at the beginning of the conversation, so that both you and your partner can manage expectations about the outcome. If you feel that there is a laundry list of items that you want to tackle, identify the top three that are important to you at this moment. Being concise will help make the conversation feel less like an attack.

    2. Respect and Curiosity Matters

    While staying perfectly calm isn't always possible, it's important to try to be respectful toward one another. If you're struggling with engaging in a respectful conversation, then practice the pause and take a step back. You can allow yourself to feel and experience a full range of emotions, while also communicating from a constructive perspective.

    Arguing effectively also includes operating from a place of curiosity. Instead of assuming what the other person might be thinking or feeling, ask questions and get curious about what each others' experience may be. Being curious about how each person is experiencing the same situation can allow us to have empathy for one another.

    When we can shift our conversation style from accusatory to curiosity, we set the tone for a healthier dialogue. After all, a fight is not you versus your partner—it is you and your partner versus the issue at hand.

    3. Comprehension Practice

    One of the contributing factors to ongoing fighting in relationships is miscommunication and assumptions. To combat this, it's important to develop the practice of clarifying what is said along the way. This ensures that both you and your partner are on the same page.

    For example, partner A expresses to partner B that they need more help with household chores. Partner B might receive this as their significant other calling them lazy—when this is not what was said at all. We want to minimize miscommunication where we can and we can do this by asking our partner what they heard or interpreted, or by asking them to clarify a statement. This can help us correct one another's thinking errors and assumptions during the course of conversation.

    How To End An Argument And Move Forward

    When it comes to how to end an argument, there are typically three ways to begin moving forward:

    • You and your partner identify tangible next steps to move the relationship forward.
    • You and your partner explore an agreed-upon compromise.
    • You and your partner learn and accept to agree to disagree.

      When learning to agree to disagree, it's important to acknowledge that two different truths and perspectives can co-exist. This doesn't mean that you concede to your partner's truth or viewpoint—but you can come to terms with the fact that their perspective is uniquely theirs, just as your perspective is uniquely yours. Showing support to one another even during moments of tension and stress contributes to a secure and functioning relationship.

      The Benefits of a Healthy Argument

      Healthy arguments deepen the connection in a relationship and contribute to emotional intimacy. For those who did not have examples of appropriate conflict resolution growing up, healthy arguments can also serve as a corrective experience which can boost the self-esteem of the individual and the growth of the couple.

      What matters most when in the space of conflict is the repair: How do you lean in toward each other during and after an argument? How do you nurture one another when all is said and done? And how do you demonstrate that you are listening and working toward a common goal?

      When we are able to engage in healthy arguments and demonstrate attempts to repair emotional wounds, we are creating a secure environment that reinforces a feeling of safety and trust in one another.

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