It's perfectly normal if you and your significant other bicker every now and then. Every couple fights—it's just part of the package. "Even the healthiest relationships have conflict because they're made up of two people who have both similar and different needs and desires," says Maggie Hoop, LPCA, NCC, a therapist who specializes in relationships. What matters most—and what might determine whether or not you and your partner have what it takes to make it for the long haul—is how you handle the arguments at hand. To help you navigate the unchartered waters of fighting with your loved one, we asked top relationship experts for their best tips for defusing and getting through any conflict.
First, acknowledge that it's perfectly natural to disagree.
Most couples don't discuss their intimate issues with others, even close friends and family because it's just that—intimate. That's why it's hard to remember that every couple fights, even your friends who post constant photos on social media showing off their seemingly perfect union. "Rather than immediately dismissing an idea expressed by your partner because it differs from your own, do your best to become curious about the underlying needs that are driving their desire," says Christy Whitman, relationship coach and author of The Art of Having It All.
Be aware of your own issues.
Remembering what we can and can't control in the relationship is important. While we can't control how our partner thinks or feels, we can be accountable and own up to the part of the problem having to do with us. "Accountability is my one word that summarizes therapy," explains Fran Walfish, Psy.D., couples relationship and family psychologist. "The self-exploration and self-awareness that therapy entails hopefully leads to the ultimate goal of owning up to our own issues, both personal and in relationships."
Stick to the topic.
Whatever the reason the two of you are arguing—whether it's something his mother said to you over the holidays or a chore she forgot to do around the house—focus on the issue at hand. "Don't bring in a laundry list of complaints about things that happened 10 years ago. No one wants to hear about misgivings from months and years back!" says Dr. Walfish. "When you refer to your old complaints, it may be a sign that you hold a grudge and cannot let go of conflicts."
It's impossible to assume that you and your partner won't get heated, especially when arguments arise, but knowing how to handle yourself if and when things escalate is key. During these moments, experts say it's best to take a break so as not to say something that you might regret. "Taking a break from the argument does not mean stopping it and never coming back," says Hoop. "It means recognizing that you're in a heightened emotional state and need a cool-down." She adds that you shouldn't wait longer than 24 hours to pick up where you left off.
Learn how to listen.
When your partner says something to you, it might trigger a response that almost feels out of your control, but the best thing to do is really understand what they're saying before you chime back in. "Listen carefully without interrupting to understand what doesn't feel good to your partner and with genuine interest," explains Dr. Walfish. "If you're at a boiling point and about to say things that you're going to regret, you're better off regulating and soothing yourself first."
Learn how to talk.
While it's not always easy, Hoop advises her clients to avoid criticizing their partners, or allowing the argument to become a personal attack. "Avoid contempt, which can be displayed many ways being, including disrespect, name-calling, sarcasm, and body language," she adds. "When you're immediately racking your brain for an excuse, you're not paying attention to what the other person is saying."
Know your argument styles.
Hoop explains that oftentimes one partner is the pursuer, who becomes anxious if the argument isn't resolved immediately, and the other the withdrawer, who tends to need space to calm down, reflect, and figure out how he or she feels. She recommends that withdrawers take some time to themselves in a safe place to think about the argument and the things they really want to express and that pursuers recognize that the world won't end if they take a break from the argument.