5 ways to break the vicious cycle of fighting

Stuck in a rut? This will help.

You know how it is. You’re mad at your partner about something, so you’re snippy and passive aggressive (or whatever your go-to fight mode is), and then because you’re being a jerk, they get mad and double down on whatever thing they were doing in the first place that made you mad. And around you go. It’s no way to live. So here are 5 tried-and-true strategies for breaking free of this awful loop of despair.

1. Go do something fun together

Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of the context that you’re in and go do something different, somewhere different. You don’t have to resolve everything in order to go have fun for a couple of hours (or even just a few minutes if that’s all you can spare). Doing so may just get you in a better mood and remind you of the positives in your relationship, which can help you reset.

2. Talk it through

If you’re more of a face-things-head-on type of person, it may be more comfortable for you to try sitting down for an old-fashioned chat. What’s most useful in this context is to focus your communication on your experiences, feelings, and needs, rather than telling your partner what they’re doing wrong. For example, instead of saying “you never take the garbage out,” you could say, “I feel stressed and anxious when the garbage piles up.”

3. Role play

Talking not cutting it? Try role playing as each other. But wait—don’t use this as an opportunity to mock your partner or exaggerate their behavior, which is going to be extremely counterproductive. Instead try to build empathy by really imagining how they’re feeling as you act out their behavior. And when your partner shows you how they see your behavior, rather than getting defensive, try to learn from it. Is what they’re doing not at all what you thought you were doing or how you thought you were coming across? That’s useful information.

4. Take a break from each other

Sometimes when you’re really fired up, you need some space before you can do anything else. Taking a breather either in separate rooms or with one or both of you out of the house can give you a minute for your anger to wear off and cooler heads to prevail. Just make sure you establish beforehand that you’re taking a break and not going out for milk and never coming back, otherwise your partner may feel even more threatened, defeating the purpose of taking a break.

5. See a couples therapist

You don’t have to wait until you’re on the verge of a breakup to see a couples therapist. It doesn’t have to be a last resort. If you’ve been stuck in a vicious cycle of fighting and making each other miserable for a while, and none of the strategies above have worked, it can be really helpful to bring in a third party. A trained couples therapist can help you identify where you’re going wrong and suggest some ways to communicate better and show each other more compassion and love.


P.S. Here are some ground rules you can follow when you’re having an argument to keep things productive.

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