Chances are, even the most “perfect” couples you know have had their fair share of ugly spats. “The road to intimacy is paved with ruptures and repairs,” says Dr. Wendy Walsh, Ph.D. and author of The 30-Day Love Detox. When it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable—but it’s how you handle those blowouts that makes all the difference.
Whether he skipped ahead in OITNB without you, or your political/religious views aren’t well aligned, there’s a right way and a wrong way to work out your issues. Here’s how happy couples get it right when it comes to conflict resolution.
1.They Actually Listen
In the throes of an argument, both parties are often thinking more about their comebacks than what the other person has to say. We immediately become defensive in arguments, says Walsh. This is a feeding ground for miscommunication and results in two people simply talking at one another, without digesting and building off of one another’s thoughts and feelings. “The person who is not being heard will find somebody to listen,” says Walsh. “And that person will be either a lover or a lawyer.”
2.They Pause Before Responding
Any anger management coach will tell you it’s best to count to 10 before reacting in a tense situation. The same logic can and should be applied to fights with your S.O. Not only does thinking before you speak keep you from saying something you might regret, notes Walsh, it also gives you a few moments of distance from the argument to consider the other person’s side.
3.They Own Their Feelings
This is a big one. Don’t begin sentences with “you,” says Walsh. You need to take full responsibility of your feelings so instead of saying, “You’re making me angry,” try, “I feel angry when…” This helps your partner feel less defensive and more willing to listen to what you’re saying.
When a fight comes out of nowhere—like when one of you loses it during a long car ride—Walsh recommends having what she calls an “automatic sound bite” to slow things down. Saying something like “That didn’t feel very good,” when your guy criticizes your driving skills will show him your feelings are hurt. It’s the first step to getting your emotions under control and managing the argument in a more productive way.
4.They Set Ground Rules
It’s important to understand one another’s fighting styles, says Walsh. For example, you may need to take a walk and check out for 10 minutes in order to get a clear head. Letting your partner know that you need a break is way better than walking out the door mid-sentence without saying a word.
5.They Know When to Fight
If you’re aware that you’re about to say something controversial, remember to HALT. That means don’t bring up a sensitive topic when one or both parties are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. (It’s a recipe for overreations.) Plan to have these discussions when both of you are calm and in a good space mentally.
6.They Think About the Big Picture
Couples who think every fight is the end of the world aren’t able to realize that the bad stuff is just a difficult moment, explains Walsh. But when two people are truly invested in what they have together, they aren’t as likely to be caught up in specific moments of unease. If you view your bond as more valuable than whatever you’re pissed about today, it will allow you to prioritize what really matters.
7.They Prioritize the Repair
Remember: The frequency of your conflicts is less crucial than how you fix those fights, whether you need makeup sex or a few hours alone. None of these methods are necessarily superior to the other, says Walsh. What’s vital is that the repair happens fully, and no one is harboring resentment after the fact.
8.They Let the Relationship Win
Put the relationship first, rather than focusing on winning, says Walsh. Can’t swallow your pride? Consider it this way: “You’d be in love with a loser if the person you’re with is always wrong,” says Walsh.
9.They Go to Bed Angry
At a certain point, nothing good comes of staying up all night, trying to hash it out. A good night’s sleep can lead to better perspective, and you may wake up and realize the fight wasn’t worth it.