Disputes with your partner are nothing to run away from — but there are disputes, and then there are full-on fights. A lot of us wait until something becomes a big problem to address it, but then instead of avoiding an argument, we end up making it more intense. Rather than dance around your issues, it's best to confront them before they escalate so that the confrontation is productive rather than hostile.
Some disagreements can signal the end of a relationship, but there is such a thing as disagreeing respectfully. The key is understanding your partner's viewpoint and communicating clearly. "Conflict is a normal, natural and healthy part of every relationship," emotional health expert and NYC-based psychotherapist Katherine Schafler tells Bustle. "But of course, conflicts can also get out of hand, fast. The difference between a fight and a useful discussion usually has to do with two specific things: The amount of resentment that has built up in the relationship [and] the boundaries around what is and what isn't an acceptable way to deal with conflict."
So, avoiding fights comes down to stopping resentment from building up and making your boundaries clear before they're violated. Here are some ways to accomplish that.
1Clarify Which Methods Of Addressing Conflict You Won't Tolerate
Some couples yell at each other left and right and just view it as a normal part of resolving problems, while others get upset at the slightest change in tone of voice. Schafler suggests reflecting on what you would consider a "low blow," like screaming or name-calling, so you can let your partner know not to do it in advance.
2Say "No" To Things You Don't Want To Do
It sounds obvious, but many of us go along with our partners' plans because we don't want to come off disagreeable or demanding. Instead of accomplishing our original goal of keeping the peace, this causes resentment, which in turn causes fights. Saying "no" if you're feeling "meh" about something your partner wants is actually doing them a favor, since it gives them the knowledge to make informed decisions and keep your relationship drama-free.
"It's actually not your partner's fault if you're constantly agreeing to do something that makes you feel like your partner 'owes' you," Schafler says. "As an adult, it's your job to say 'no' when you feel like you've been giving or doing too much."
3Speak Up When You're Unhappy With Something Your Partner's Doing
Don't try to be the "cool girl," warns Schafler. "If your partner's always late, drinks too much, or is spending time alone with other women and that makes you uncomfortable, speak up."
When you pretend to be OK with something your partner does that makes you angry, they'll do it more, and you'll just get angrier.
4Plan Your Talks
If you don't block out time to discuss a problem, it becomes more likely that you'll end up waiting until one or both of you are emotional, drunk, tired, hangry, or unable to devote your full attention to the conversation, says Schafler. "Get into a calm, poised place yourself [and] get clear on what you want to discuss," she says. "This way, neither of you associates talking with drama or an inevitable damper on the whole evening."
5Time-Box Your Talks
If you give yourself an indefinite amount of time to discuss a problem, you may end up unnecessarily rehashing it or arguing over details that seem important in the moment but aren't upon reflection. Schafler suggests planning a talk for before you have other plans so that you're forced to stop, and then after you've stepped away from the talk, you can decide whether there's anything that still needs addressing. "If you're being direct, you should be able to say what you need to say in less than five minutes, talk about it for five minutes, and let it be," she says.
6Keep Your Mouth Shut When You Don't Have Anything Constructive To Say
It may seem like you're not actively participating in a discussion if you don't respond to everything your partner says. But listening and nodding is a lot better than saying something defensive or not well-thought-out. Fights can escalate when we speak without thinking, and often, people would rather feel like they're being heard and understood than feel like their partner has something to say about everything. "We over-complicate so many things in this world," says Schafler. "Listening is one of them."
7Address One Problem At A Time
"If you're talking about lateness, don't bring up how you're the one who always empties the dishwasher, or how you pay for everything all the time," says Schafler. Piling on the complaints can make your partner defensive, and once we've gotten the important things off our chest, we may realize the other ones don't matter so much. Decide in advance what needs addressing now, and if there's more you want to talk about, schedule another talk once you've tackled the first issue.
8Go To Bed Angry
The advice to "never go to bed angry" can backfire. Analyzing an issue until it feels totally resolved can keep a stressful conversation going when in reality, everything that needs to be said has already been said. And literally staying up to do this makes you cranky, which can lead you to get upset about things that don't seem like such a big deal in the morning. "Sometimes, it takes several 'mini-talks' to successfully manage an issue," says Schafler. "Trying to achieve resolution in one fell swoop puts undue pressure on you and your partner, not to mention makes you feel like you're failing at your relationship."
Of course, sometimes these tactics will fail and you'll end up fighting anyway, and that's not the end of the world. In fact, fights can renew your commitment to each other, reassure you that you can get through tough times together, and help you understand each other's perspectives. But there are less stressful ways to accomplish these things, so if you can, try to nip your issues in the bud.