5 steps to ending a fight

5 Steps to End Any Fight

Arguing threatens your relationship and your health. Learn how to disarm.

Published on April 16, 2014 by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. in Compassion Matters

Fighting is one of those unpleasant parts of a relationship that we wish wouldn’t happen. But what if it was also life-threatening?

A Brigham Young University study, tracing couples over two decades, found that more arguments correlated with poorer health—and concluded that couples who don’t argue actually live longer. While a happy relationship has long been connected to good health, this research shows that arguments could take a serious toll.

But what if there was a technique that could help resolve conflicts between you and your partner? Would you try it—even if it meant temporarily dropping your side of a fight? What if it meant letting go of all that pent-up, righteous rage right at its peak moment? Believe it or not, you can learn to do this. And when you do, not only will your fights lose their nasty, escalating nature, you will feel better and more empowered.

Unilateral disarmament is a tool I introduce to every couple I work with. What it involves is momentarily dropping your side of the debate and approaching your partner from a more loving stance. The idea is that when couples have tension between them, perhaps from not communicating successfully or directly, they start to build resentments toward each other, which often reach a tipping point. An argument begins, then escalates based on an overflow of pent-up frustration and flawed communication. Heated moments are, however, the worst times to try to solve problems or make our points heard. They leave us saying things we regret or don’t even mean.

Unilateral disarmament involves shifting your focus from your partner’s words and behaviors to your own. The only person you can control in a relationship—or an argument—is you. All you can do in a moment of tension is soften within yourself and approach your partner from a more vulnerable and open stance.

How can you do this?

1. Relax. 

At times when you’re triggered, you may feel yourself start to experience increased arousal, as if you are heating up. At these moments, you may hear your inner critic coaching you to take destructive actions, like lashing out at your partner. Respond by calming yourself down, maybe by taking a series of deep breaths or counting back from 10.

You can get a hold of these moments and learn to pause. For example, you can choose between intimating and violating, between addressing your partner from a loving stance and talking calmly or from an angry, punitive point of view and yelling. Whatever your technique for getting back to yourself with the higher functions of your brain online, perhaps taking a walk or listening to music, find a way to get centered in yourself before you respond. Think about what your goals are for your relationship and make your actions ones that will move you toward those goals.

2. Don’t lash back.

Couples often know what to say to each other to trigger the other person. Resist making these statements or taking the bait. Stay being who you want to be regardless of how your partner is acting. You can take responsibility for your own behavior and not hand over your personal power to your mate, i.e. “she/he made me act like that.” When you do this, you can feel good about yourself, because you did not end up saying a lot of hurtful things to your partner, which may have caused lasting damage to the relationship.

Remember, if your ultimate goal is to be close to your partner, then being “right” and “winning the argument” is not a success. Often, it is more important to be close than to be right. In other words, you can choose in the moment to prioritize staying emotionally vulnerable and open to your partner over winning the argument.

3. Respond warmly.

Try to listen to your partner’s feelings, irrational as they may seem to you in that moment. Then, say something warm and understanding. Stress that it doesn’t really matter who’s right. A recent Baylor University study showed that fights between couples have a lot to do with power. The study revealed that, in a fight, people primarily want their partner to relinquish power. Next, in order of most to least, they want their partner to show investment, to stop adversarial behavior, to communicate more, to give affection and to make an apology.

Laying down your arms does not mean giving up your power, or taking the easy way out.  It is actually incredibly hard to do and takes a lot of personal strength, but it is worth it. It means taking a more vulnerable stance that won’t be perceived as threatening and will have a softening effect on your partner. Put a hand on your partner, look them in the eye and say something from your heart, like “I care more about being close to you than having this fight.” Sometimes, a small act of affection is all it takes to disarm your partner. Looking your partner in the eye, taking his/her hand and clearly communicating your goal of being close to him/her is an act of vulnerability that is hard to disregard. Taking this action will often melt your partner's heart and allow him/her to be more vulnerable and open with you.

4. Empathize.

You can put yourself in your partner’s shoes and empathize with what he/she is feeling. For example, if your partner is jealous, because you stayed out late with friends instead of doing something with him/her, you could say something like, “It seems like this makes you feel insecure. I’m really sorry about that. It is not my intention to hurt you or be untrustworthy. Spending time with my friends doesn’t mean I feel rejecting toward you, or that I don’t care about you. But I can understand how it looked that way from your perspective.”

It’s important to note that the technique of unilateral disarmament does not imply that you are surrendering your point of view, giving in to emotional manipulation, taking the blame or deferring to your partner’s opinion. It simply indicates that you value being close to your partner more than winning your specific point. You can come to appreciate that you are two separate people with two sovereign mind, who may see any event or situation from a very different perspective. Each of your points of view is shaped by your past experiences, and you can have compassion and understanding for both yourself and your partner. Having taken the step of deescalating the conflict by disarming, reaching out and showing empathy toward your partner, you can begin to have constructive collaborative communication in which each of you is trying to understand the other’s perspective and reach a shared understanding.

5. Communicate how you feel. 

“Name it to tame it” is a technique by which you label your feelings and actually calm them down. The first step is to tune in to what you are actually feeling in the moment. You can then acknowledge or share with your partner what is going on for you and how you saw the situation. You can take the risk of being honest and open about your feelings. For instance, you could tell your partner, “I felt hurt and put off by your jealousy. It makes me feel bad that you don’t seem to believe how much I care for you, and that makes me feel distrusted and pushed away. My goal is to be close to you, but I don’t want to give up my other friends; they are really important to me”

When you communicate with your partner, be attuned to all the ways you’re expressing yourself, both verbally and non-verbally. What’s going on in you when you talk him/her? What do you feel? Notice your nonverbal signals, your body language, tone of voice, the timing and intensity of your words. Pay attention to the impact that ways you are communicating is having on your partner. If your body language is different from your verbal message, you are sending a double message to your partner, which is confusing. It would be important to recognize if you have ambivalent feelings and to share both feelings with your partner directly, allowing for honest communication. 

The more you communicate in this way with your partner, honestly and directly, yet with compassion, the closer and stronger your relationship will become. Each of you will be less likely to build a case against the other and to hold grudges that are just waiting to resurface during your next conflict. You will be relating as two equal individuals, with respect and caring. And perhaps you will even live longer and certainly with a lot more satisfaction from your relationship.


Join Dr. Lisa Firestone for a live weekend workshop retreat, “Overcome Your Fear of Love: How to Create Your Ideal Relationship” on May 30-June 1 in Ojai, CA.

Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at




3 Relationship Skills You Need to Practice


The 3 Relationship Skills You Need to Practice

Master them, and you'll avoid vicious cycles of conflict.

Published on January 16, 2014 by Guy Winch, Ph.D. in The Squeaky Wheel


Looking back over my 20 years as a couples therapist, and considering the many other couples I’ve encountered in my personal life, I realize that the happiest and most satisfied of them exhibited three specific relationship skills. Don’t be disheartened if you and/or your partner are not great at these skills. They rarely come pre-installed; they need to be learned and practiced:

1. Empathy

Empathy refers to being able to step into another person’s shoes and understand their experience and point of view so that you can gain an appreciation of how they feel, and then step out again. Of course, you also have to be able to convey your insights to that person accurately for them to benefit from your efforts at understanding.

Most couples struggle with empathy for a simple and, well, stupid reason: They believe that because they’ve been in the relationship for a long time they "just know" what the other person is thinking or feeling. Of course, countless studies demonstrate the faultiness of that assumption—we’re simply not very good mind-readers, even of our spouses. Our assumptions are almost always biased or just off the mark.

Empathy requires a Jedi mind trick of sorts: You have to close your eyes and literally imagine being the other person. You have to get a sense of their perspective, their reality, their priorities, their expectations, their assumptions, and their concerns. Only then should you introduce the current pressing situation into the scene and imagine how the other person perceives the situation and how they might feel about it.

Empathy is a crucial relationship skill in and of itself, but it is also related to the next essential relationship skill. . .

2. Emotional Validation

When your spouse or partner is angry or upset with you, the last thing you might think to do is fan the flames by telling them they have every right to feel the way they do. But when you convey that exact message—from a place of sympathy and understanding—something magical happens. Rather than inciting their sadness or fury or fueling their fire, your message of emotional validation can actually douse the flame.

Why does this paradoxical result occur?

Emotional validation is something we all seek and crave, typically far more than we realize. When we are upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed or hurt, the thing we want most is for our partner to "get it," to understand why we feel the way we do. We want them to validate our feelings by conveying their understanding to us with a generous dollop of sympathy. When they do so accurately—which requires employing empathy—the relief and catharsis we experience is tremendous. We can then attain an authentic visceral "release" and begin to let go some of the feelings we've built up. Taking a leap of faith and conveying emotional validation to your partner, especially in the midst of an argument, can actually calm things down and allow warmer feelings to return.

Emotional validation and empathy are hugely important relationship skills in and of themselves. They are augmented by the third essential relationship skill on our list. . .

3. Consideration and Civility

Couples consistently underestimate the impact small gestures of consideration can have on the tone and dynamics of their relationship. I’ve seen time and again how leaving a nice card, bringing flowers, allowing the other person to sleep in, preparing a favorite meal, offering a kind word or an affectionate hug, or introducing a soft and loving tone, can quickly put a stop to a tense and negative dynamic and return the relationship to a positive communication track.

Obviously, flowers or a hug cannot undo every hurt. But when things get tense, civility, good will, and consideration are too often replaced by tension, impatience, and negativity. One person treats the other poorly, which makes that partner feel less considerate as well—and on and on the vicious cycle goes.

But breaking out of this negative cycle requires only two or three gestures of good will and consideration, and your partner is likely to begin to respond in kind—provided you also practice empathy and emotional validation. (Read How to Test Your Marital Civility.)

 These three relationship skills go hand in hand. Together they form a foundation of caring, trust, and connection to which couples can more easily return when they find themselves in times of stress, tension, or emotional distance. Of course, for couples to benefit from these skills, they should make an effort to practice them, get better at them, and integrate them into their daily thinking and communication.

 For more detailed instructions for practicing empathy and emotional validation, check out my book, Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013).

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Copyright 2014 Guy Winch



New Feature

I am excited (and I little shocked that I never thought of doing this before) to start a new thing on this blog.  I will from time to time post articles that I feel will be helpful to you.  Most of these articles will be an online resource, therefore giving you easy access to good information!  Happy Thursday!


Now accepting credit cards in the office!!

I am please to announce that I am now accepting credit card payments in the office.  The best part is the name of the card reader company, a company called Square, will be the name that shows on your statement.  YAY for confidentiality!  


Your private information may be public on the internet

I really want to let people know about this issue. A new site called has a listing that includes your home address, income level, and a bunch of other information that you may or may not want others to know.

If you or a family member needs your home address or personal information kept secure due to privacy, domestic violence danger, or just because you would like to keep information private, visit this website and remove yourself today!

Remove yourself by searching your name, click on your link, copy the URL that comes up on your page, then go to the bottom right corner of the page and click on the Privacy button to remove yourself.