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Instant Fight Stoppers

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2. Ask yourself: Is this really fight-worthy?

If you fly off the handle over every little infraction (dishes in the sink, giving the kids snacks before dinner), your partner will tune you out on the big stuff. Terry Lake, 35, of Rochester, PA, decided that eight years of nagging his wife about her lack of tidiness was enough: "I realized it's not something we will ever solve, so if I want the bathroom clean I can do it myself."

3. Agree to call a time-out

Sometimes just getting away from each other for a minute or two can stop a fight. Pat Enderson, 31, of Maple Grove, MN, finds herself bickering with her husband when she's stressed out or tired. "Either my husband or I will realize it and call a time-out," she says. "Sometimes that means going to another room; sometimes it just means being quiet for a while. Usually the whole thing passes without further comment."

4. Say you're sorry when you're not

"Most of us are convinced we have to show our 'real' feelings all the time, and that's not true," says Weiner-Davis. "The 'love means never having to say you're sorry' line is some of the biggest baloney ever. Say you're sorry even if you're not 100 percent behind it." You'll be amazed at the impact those words can have on a hostile mate; he's very likely to soften after hearing them, as Scott Tady, 35, of Beaver, PA, can attest: "Usually if my wife or I say 'I'm sorry' during a fight, we start kissing and hugging; the pent-up frustration can eventually lead to some incredible sex."

5. Stop. Think. Write.

Sometimes your argument looks ridiculous once it's on paper. Instead of blurting out what's making you angry, jot it down on a notepad, or even put it in an email (you don't have to send it!). Marriage therapist Lisa Stromeier of Columbus, OH, says this strategy serves another important function: It gives you time to cool off.

6. Barter with everything!

Cindy Moss, 39, of Cedar Rapids, IA, has no qualms about using sex as a bargaining tool. "When one of us wants the other to do something he or she doesn't want to do, we'll avoid fighting by saying something like, "If you go with me to visit my great-aunt in the nursing home, I'll owe you big," meaning a sexual favor. Those words totally defuse arguments because they ease the tension. Also, it makes us both happier doing what we don't want to when there's such a fun reward."

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