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Fight the Good Fight: Turn Spats Into Solutions

By Camille Pagan
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD

Want to dial down the unhealthy drama in your relationship? You can, once you know how to defuse blow-up arguments and unresolved feuds.

“Massive, all-out fights are bad for you. They make your heart race, cause stress, and can trigger issues like migraines,” says psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert. “On the other hand, learning to have good conversations keeps your relationship healthy.”

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Here are six ways to ensure your next argument has a good outcome. 

Keep Calm and Carry On

If your blood’s boiling and you can barely remember what started your fight in the first place, call a time out.

“It’s next to impossible to be logical, let alone empathetic, in a heightened state,” Alpert says.

Pick the discussion back up when both of you feel levelheaded.If you can’t keep your voice down, you may not be ready to have the conversation.

Know Your Goal

Before you sit down to talk, Alpert recommends you ask yourself: "What do I want to accomplish here? Do I want to hurt my partner, or work toward a resolution?"

Focus on finding a positive solution from the get-go. That makes it more likely you’ll listen and stay thoughtful.

People who keep their angry feelings contained may be more likely to develop health conditions like high blood pressure.

Keep to Task

Keep your argument brief and on-point.

“Leave the past in the past. Don’t bring up all the prior problems related to the one you’re discussing. Instead, solve one thing at a time,” says psychotherapist Tina Tessina, PhD. “Keep statements to two or three sentences. That way, it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to dominate the conversation, and it will be easier for your partner to grasp what you’re saying.”

Know What You Need

Instead of criticizing your partner’s habits or values, be specific, Tessina says. For example, say, “It would mean a lot to me if you’d stop using your cell phone during dinner,” rather than, “I think you’re addicted to Facebook.”

Also, steer clear of words like "always" and "never." “Over-generalizing is upsetting and is usually also untrue,” Tessina says.

Sleep On It

A lack of sleep makes conflicts harder to resolve, a recent study shows. If you’re frazzled or fried, it’s OK to go to bed mad if you both agree to put talks on hold until the next day, Alpert says.

Pause Between Statements

It takes work to change the way you communicate. Suggestion: Discuss a hot-button issue when you’re not mad.

“Let your partner make a statement about the problem, but take at least 10 minutes to think about what he or she has said before you respond,” says Gerald Goodman, PhD, a psychologist and professor emeritus at UCLA. “Then sum up what your partner said, and make your own statement. Go back and forth a few times. It may take several hours or days, but it will pay off.”

Find it hard to pause between statements? “My research shows that learning to delay your response helps you stay calm and find solutions during major conflicts,” Goodman says.

Between pauses, use the time to listen to your partner, Alpert says. The more you’re on the same page, the easier it is to resolve fights quickly and fairly.

Reviewed on March 04, 2014

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