Two european bee-eaters dueling over territory on a rosehip twig with thorns

Conflict won’t necessarily make or break a relationship. However, the ways that a couple deals with fighting can. Handling conflict in a healthy way isn’t simple—no matter how long you’ve been with someone.

In this article are six of the best pieces of advice we’ve received on de-escalating relationship conflict.

It is best to try to de-escalate the conflict as quickly as possible.

To start, temporarily separate and allow the cortisol and other stress chemicals flooding your system to gradually decrease.  This will enable you to gain some perspective and think more openly.

However, sometimes when a time out is taken, the other person feels abandoned. Realizing that you both are in this together is a great way to de-escalate conflict within your relationship. Neither of you is perfect, and at times will both feel angry and upset with one another. Learning how to communicate is vital.

Being transparent on what works best for you when you become reactive is essential. Chat about things you can do that de-escalate the argument without becoming upset.

At times, your partner might need you to say, “I think it would be best if I take a time out and clear my head.”

A mood check is the right way of testing whether it is an appropriate time to explore tension. Ask your partner if everything is okay or how they are feeling. Responding calmly is an excellent way of knowing that the conflict can now be explored further.  If your partner responds with an angry or annoyed tone and things escalate quickly, be willing to walk away and discuss the issue at another time.

If you’re upset about something that relates to your partner, approach the situation by saying: “I have an idea that..”

For example, “I have an idea that you’re mad with me because I didn’t pay enough attention to you yesterday.”

By doing this, you’re recognizing that you’ve made meaning out of something that might not be real. By expressing your viewpoint as an “idea,” the other person can try to understand how you see a situation without feeling the need to become defensive. This stops your partner from feeling criticized or attacked while also allowing them to identify how they may have upset you, regardless of their actual intention.

When you’re done communicating your feelings, request your partner to repeat what you have said. Try saying, “Would you be willing to reflect on any of the things you heard just now? It’s necessary for me to feel like I’ve been heard.”

Be sure to ask this kindly, not to command it.

This reflection method allows both of you to slow down and make sure you are on the same page. Those who are experienced in active listening might do this already. It’s okay, though, to ask for it if your partner doesn’t do it naturally.

Approach with the intent to learn. Often the way we behave in an argument is based on a desire to control the outcome. We yell or explain or defend ourselves because we want the conflict to end on our terms, or we comply with our partner out of a desire to keep their emotions at bay.

But there is a meaningful difference between looking for answers and the act of actually opening yourself up. When you reprogram your mindset in this way, you begin to see conflict not as something to win or lose but as a chance to learn and grow.

It is imperative to learn how to listen to and speak about our partner’s complaints. We need to cease sweeping matters under the rug and deal with hurt or conflicted emotions right away. This means that instead of keeping a mental list of things that we resent, we try to handle the situations that cause them quickly after they happen.

Sweeping it under the rug will not go well for either partner. … It shows up as a grudge, a lousy blow-up, or a quiet resentment that eats away at our love.