stop arguing

We all know how easy it is to argue and, deep down, we know how to stop arguing, but we so often act as if we have forgotten. Here are three things you can do together, and 5 things you can do to help yourself, ease the pain and, eventually help your relationship.

Recognise arguing for what it is: immature, stress-driven, a smokescreen, a waste of time and, worst of all, highly destructive to your relationship.

On the surface, it might seem that arguments are the biggest cause of relationship breakdown. They certainly contribute, but they are generally a harmful symptom, rather than the cause of breakdowns.

Repeated behaviour like arguing can reinforce the habit and make it much harder to break.

Destructive arguing has some common patterns.

Recognising these patterns is the first step to breaking free from them. The first of these is:

  1. REHASHING THE PAST. You can’t change the past, so why keep bringing it up? Staying stuck in the past prevents you from enjoying the present and stops you moving forward.
  2. Speaking of NOT BEING PRESENT It’s easy to zone out during an argument. The ‘we’ve-been-here-before-here-we-go-again’ cycle puts one or both of you into a trance. You can’t really pay attention to each other. If you notice this happening pull yourself out of it, calm down, and when you have, have a proper, grown up conversation where you can each give your fiull attention to the other.
  3. Dancing around TABOO TOPICS Every relationship has its taboos. Hot topics that become no go areas because you don’t feel safe discussing them. But, either because they do get mentioned or because they are lying just below the surface, these unmentionable subjects still cause arguments.
  4. CROSS-COMPLAINING Cross complaining happens when one of you mentions a grievance and instead of responding by listening and discussing it, the other person flings back a complaint about something unrelated to the original complaint. “You always leave wet towels on the floor”, might be answered with “Well, you never help me clear the table when we have eaten!”
  5. FEELING UNHEARD Listening effectively is the first step to effective communication. Feeling unheard is also the main cause of people yelling at each other. Think about it, there’s no need to shout if you know the other person is hearing you!

When you feel as if you have to win the argument, or you are competing with each other to be heard, you are already heading for a dead end. Break the habit. Learn to listen effectively and do yourself and your relationship a huge favour.

How to stop arguing

So, the five things you individually can do are:

Understand the repeating patterns that get you both into trouble. When you see what a pattern is, you can change it. For example, maybe you tend to argue when you’ve both had a hard day at work, or perhaps something about how you are raising the children always causes a dispute. Avoid risky times and discuss these patterns when they are not an issue. All couples have these patterns, so there’s no need to feel bad about them. The responsible thing is to understand the flashpoints and do something about the patterns that cause them. Changing the time, the place, or the words you use can all be ways of breaking a pattern.

Stay rooted in the present. Instead of switching into those thought patterns that dredge up the past, focus on the here and now. If your partner insists on going over old grievances, call a halt to the conversation and politely walk away. Say something like “We always fight about this when it comes up and I don’t want to fight. Can we come back to it when we are not angry?” Of course, if the argument has already gone too far, this will be like a red rag to a bull to the other person. Explain that you are not avoiding the topic, but you are avoiding the way it is being discussed. 

Reassure your partner (whether they want to hear it or not) that you are breaking off the conversation to save you both from getting stressed. If it is an important topic that keeps getting dredged up, you can surely find a better time to discuss it when you can both do it calmly.

The same approach is good for taboo topics. If there are sensitive areas like that they probably do need discussing, but not in the way that causes an argument.

Cross-complaining is easily corrected by simply listening and responding to the complaint. It’s much less painful (eventually) to acknowledge what your partner is saying – it’s obviously important to them – and to apologise if necessary, than it is to keep up the harmful cycle of cross-complaining.

Feeling unheard is the big one. It causes so much grief in so many situations. One of the most important things you can do for yourself, and for those around you, is to learn to listen effectively.

So these have been five causes and five things you can do to correct them. What about when things get too hot to handle? It’s difficult, if not impossible, to pull out of an argument in full swing, isn’t it? If you can, here are the three things I mentioned earlier.

1) Call a Truce

Stop arguing. You must both want it enough to make it work. A truce is a pause. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel and you are not giving up, giving in, or losing anything. Simply, you are both agreeing to create a space to cool down, relax and recover from the stress of fighting and, hopefully, some time to get your heads straight.

2) Be present in the here and now

Listen to what your partner is saying, and also get a sense of the emotion behind it.

3) Seek first to understand. 

Be nice. Be grateful for what you’ve achieved together, build on the positives, aim to be the best people you can in your behaviour towards each other. Focussing on the other person’s needs, rather than your own, is counter-intuitive. It is also the quickest way to start to calm things down. 

Agree your terms

In any relationship that is important to you, it is a good idea to agree a ‘Geneva Convention’ with the other person that lays down how you will handle disagreements when they arise (they will).

If you care passionately about communicating effectively then it is worth knowing how to stop an argument. There are many other possibilities, here are three:

  1. Never let a dispute get ‘hot’ and out of control. Agree in your convention that you’ll walk away, making it clear that when you do you are NOT walking away from an important issue that needs discussing. You are walking away from the WAY it is being discussed. You’ll be back, at a more propitious time (when you are both less stressed, have more time, have had time to think it over, or whatever.
  2. Recognise that your own emotional needs will not be met by continuing the fight, even though it feels as if they will. Arguments are often driven by a need for validation and understanding and in a fight, neither side is capable of giving what is needed; they are too busy defending their own positions. Emotions won’t kill you, suck it up (as my friend Phil taught me to say), focus on calming yourself down.
  3. Never mind what YOU want. During an argument, focus on protecting the dignity of the person you are in conflict with. This counter-intuitive stance will give you something to focus on other than ‘me-me-me’.

It takes two to start an argument, and only one to stop it. Now you can.

Image courtesy of Freepik


I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.