Madissyn Fredericks, Licensed Professional Counselor, Symmetry Counseling

We all respond to conflict differently, but it is common for small, petty disagreements to escalate into a nasty fight. You or your partner may begin to yell, say things you don’t mean, call each other names, get angry or aggressive, or bring up old wounds just to hurt the other person. It is easy to get pushed too far during disagreements sometimes, but it is important to recognize when it has spiraled out of control. When this happens the conflict rarely gets resolved and both partners are left feeling angry and hurt after everything is said and done. Given the destructive nature escalation plays in relationships it is important to utilize tools and strategies to limit and reverse this process. Below are five tips to use during an argument to help de-escalate the situation and better resolve conflict with your partner. Do note, however, de-escalation techniques can feel difficult at first and therefore require significant effort, practice, and patience.

1. Listen rather than react

Sometimes your partner may just want to be heard. Begin by being a sounding board for your partner rather than reacting to them with negativity. This may be difficult considering things have gotten heated and you may also feel upset, however, actively listening to what they have to say will help them feel more understood. Refraining from engaging in negative reactions and listening to your partner will help to bring that heated argument back down to a civil conversation.

2. Take a time out

Taking a time out from interacting is crucial in keeping an argument from escalating. If either you or your partner feel emotionally overwhelmed, respectfully take a time out. Discuss the amount of time you and your partner need and come back to the conversation after that amount of time has elapsed. By doing this you have given yourself and your partner some time to cool down and think about things before they spiraled out of control.

3. Acknowledge your part

While your partner may be wrong, from your perspective, blaming them or putting them down is contributing to the escalation. Acknowledge your contribution and try not to blame your partner. Reflect on the situation and apologize for something you did to contribute to your partner feeling hurt and upset. When you do this it changes the dynamic of the conversation and results in de-escalation.

4. Be respectful

Showing your significant other respect will increase positive feelings and minimize negative ones. Choose your words and actions carefully as to not disrespect your partner. For example, refrain from cursing at your partner, calling him or her names, or make aggressive faces and/or gestures towards them. If something your partner said or did during an argument hurt or offended you, tell them how it made you feel in a non-confrontational manner. Try setting boundaries so you both refrain from crossing them next time.

5. Decide on a common goal

Rather than going back and forth with aggression and negativity: pause and reflect. Take some time when you are in conflict to reflect how you got to this point and decide what you should do to make this situation right. Doing this promotes collaboration and begins a conversation about how to do better rather than engaging in more hostility.

Successful relationships develop not from the absence of conflict, but from determining a healthy strategy for how to resolve conflict. If you feel it is difficult to de-escalate conflict in your relationship, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists.