Arguments happen in relationships. You’re human, your partner’s human, and humans — even humans who love each other — don’t always see eye to eye. And while very few people like to argue with their significant other, even fewer like to do it in public. But we’ve all seen that couple fighting in the street, right? Or maybe even been that couple? So if you find yourself in that situation, how do you de-escalate a fight with your partner in public?
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship expert in Los Angeles, says that helping with fighting in public starts even before the fight itself starts. “Create a hard and fast rule,” Dr. Brown tells Bustle. “Make an agreement in your relationship that fighting in public is a line that you are simply not going to cross — ever. This has to be a rock solid agreement. In this way you significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the problem altogether.”
But even hard and fast rules are sometimes broken. So whether you’re part of a couple that can’t seem to stop duking it out in public or you just want to be prepared for it if it happens to you, here are nine tips on how to de-escalate an argument with your partner if you’re in public.
1. Use The STOP Method
Dr. Brown suggests using the "STOP" method during a public disagreement. "If by chance you are in public and an argument starts, use the STOP method to end (if not at least post-pone) the argument until you are in a private setting. STOP is an acronym for:
Take a couple of deep breaths (helps to de-escalate)
Observe what you are thinking and feelings without acting out on your emotions
Proceed in a way that is healthier than a public fight: e.g. both of you agree to put this on hold until later, finish your meal, or whatever activity you are engaging in. Or, in the event that both of you are so heated that things could really get out of hand, maybe take a break for a few minutes until both of you have had the opportunity to cool off."
2. Decide To Be Close Instead Of Right
It's also important to gain perspective during an argument. "Do you want to be 'right' or do you want to be close?" Dr. Brown says. "Using the STOP method, stop and ask yourself after you've take a couple of breaths: 'What is more important to me right now. Do I need to be 'right' or do I want to be close?' This can help to lower the tension... Even if you think you actually are right."
3. Stay Calm
Another way to de-escalate an argument? Pay attention to your voice. "No matter how angry your partner is, keep your voice low, tone quiet, and demeanor calm," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show," tells Bustle. "Initially this may make them angrier but you will quickly start taking the emotional fuel out of the fire that is the argument."
4. Take A Break
If you're heating up, Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT, says to separate yourself from the situation. "If you feel yourself getting upset, take a break," Richardson tells Bustle. "Go to the restroom, step outside and breathe a little air. Take a beat before stepping back into the tension with your partner."
5. Drink Some Water
One thing to do when you're taking a breather? Head to the water fountain. "Drink, don’t sip a glass of water," Richardson says. "Research shows that drinking cold water will help slow down your arousal system and help you emotionally and physically chill out."
6. Tell Them You're Uncomfortable
When you come back, explain that the situation is making you uneasy. "Let them know that you can’t talk to them because you don’t feel comfortable in public," Dr. Klapow says. "While that may seem obvious to you, for your partner who is arguing they may be oblivious. Let them know that you feel uncomfortable versus they are embarrassing you."
7. Don't Tell Them To Drop It
After you explain yourself, it's important to stop the argument in a productive way. "If possible, tell them that you want to solve this disagreement versus telling them to drop it because you are in public," Dr. Klapow says. "They need to know that you are not dismissing the topic — you just don’t want to discuss it in public."
8. Set A Time To Talk
Instead of blowing off the issue because you're in public though, set aside another time to discuss it. "If your partner is eager to address the issue but you feel like this isn’t the time or place, tell them that it is important to you that you discuss it also and that you would be glad to do it when you get home," Richardson says. "Or, offer another time or place when they will have your full attention."
9. Leave The Premises
If all else has failed, Dr. Klapow says it's then time for behavioral cues. "Let them know that you are going to walk or leave if they don’t let this go," Dr. Klapow says. "Do not start with this — but use this as a last attempt. If they keep arguing and won’t respect your request to deal with the problem in private, leave. That will very quickly let them know that all your previous efforts were not just avoidance."
Arguing with a partner in public can be a total nightmare. But with the right tools — staying clam, taking a break, and leaving if you have to — you'll be able to reduce the tension and problem-solve in a private space.