When you and your partner inevitably find yourselves in a heated argument, it can be difficult to figure out how to resolve things without just making the situation worse. Knowing how to stop a fight from escalating can help you and your partner work things out in a more calm, productive way. According to a relationship expert, the key is truly listening to the other person and letting them know that you're working to understand them.
"The best thing someone can do to prevent an argument from escalating is to validate the other person," Laura Braziel, MMFT, LPC, LMFT, a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist with an independent private practice, tells Bustle. "Validation is a response we give that demonstrates that we are genuinely listening to the other person and are doing our best to understand their perspective," she says. "Most arguments turn into high conflict when we sense that our feelings or thoughts are not being understood or when we feel the other is simply defending their position as if it were a competition to determine who will win."
When you're busy arguing about who does more work around the house or whether or not one of you crossed a line and potentially cheated, it can feel like you're battling it out on separate sides. But it's important to remember that you're on the same team, and that you shouldn't be thinking of the conversation in terms of winners and losers. "Conflict is an indicator of care and interest in improving the relationship," Braziel says. "When we enter into conflict remembering that we are desiring to repair or improve the relationship, we are better equipped to set aside our own interests in that moment, to really hear the other person and their concerns."
In the heat of the moment, try validating your partner by saying something like, "I can see how you would feel that way based on our previous experiences and how I worded that," Braziel says. Tell them what you hear them saying to you, and ask whether the way that you're interpreting their feelings is accurate. This gives you a great chance to clear up any confusion and to make sure that you both understand the other person's point of view.
Even if you're doing your best to stay calm, though, you can't always control your emotions, which is why it's totally OK to take a break if you need to. "One thing couples can do to stop an argument from escalating is to avoid having a discussion when they are 'flooded,'" Ashley Chambrello, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice, tells Bustle. "Flooded is a term that is used when someone is overwhelmed with a negative emotion (sadness, hurt, anger, betrayal, anxiety, etc.)," she says. It's common to experience physical symptoms like an increased heart rate, clammy palms, tightness in your chest, or rapid breathing when your emotions are this heightened, so pay attention to your body.
"Continuing an argument when you are in this state is pointless," Chambrello says. "I encourage clients to take a 30-minute time out, separately, if either of them is feeling flooded." Just make sure that you don't use this break to stew over the fight, but to be really intentional about calming down. Do a quick yoga flow, go for a walk, watch a silly TV show, or even read some poetry. "After 30 minutes, connect with your partner and if you are both calm, resume the discussion," she says.
While it's probably not your first instinct while you're fighting, do your best to remember how much you love and respect your partner. A little extra kindness and empathy can go a long way.