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Top Strategy for Stopping an Argument

When you get into an argument and hear yourself saying things you know shouldn't be said. This strategy can help take a step or two closer to normal conversation.

a couple arguing about something

When Your Brain Is Overloaded

In the heat of the moment, you might feel angry, or overwhelmed, or desperate or the need to run. It's not calm thoughtful or intelligent the way you are with other people. Here is a simple, research tested process to get you closer to normal

1. Stop!

Make the argument stop by saying what is absolutely true in that moment:

"I am really ______________ (angry or frustrated or some feeling). This will go badly if we keep going."

"I need to take a break till I feel more normal."

Research on arguing couples shows they have elevated heartrates, blood pressure and stress hormones that cause their brains to prioritize fighting and de-prioritize thinking. When you are angry, you are less intelligent because brain resources have been diverted to make you powerful instead.

2. Take a Break

Get away and get your mind off the topic you were arguing about. Do not take a break to think it over. Deliberately think about something else.

Maybe take a walk and pay attention to the trees, the sky, the mountains, or even just the dirt. Listen to the birds or the cars or whatever you can hear. Smell the air.

When you take this kind of a break, your heart rate will come down, stress hormones will reduce and your brain will switch back to more intelligent thinking. The brain researchers call this "executive control."

3. Play the Movie in Your Head

First, After you feel closer to normal, visualize the scene of the argument and how it would go if you had just stayed in it. Hear the raised voices, the harsh words, and the accusations. See how it usually ends and the bitter state of mind both of you can get into for the rest of the day or even the rest of the month. You know what this looks like because you have done it all before.

Second, play the movie where the argument goes better, gets solved or maybe just postponed. See yourself using different words to make that happen. See yourself looking calmer or kinder, whatever would work. Hear yourself talking like a partner or a lover or a leader or whatever it takes. Hear yourself talking with humor or love. Hear yourself even taking the other person's perspective into account.

This method of visualizing is time tested. Recovering alcoholics use this to play the movie of what will happen after they take that first drink. Impulsive or ADHD personalities use visualization to help them see the risks or benefits of their behaviors. We all use it to avoid repeating painful mistakes.

4. Go Back and Offer to Start Over

Don't just let it lie. That doesn't work. This time use something called "gentle startup." Most arguments end the way they start. Start gentle and you could get a gentle ending. Maybe admit that you were angry and said some harsh things.

Face it, you are only going to do one of four things in this discussion:

  • Stand your ground

  • Negotiate

  • Compromise

  • Postpone

Can you do what you need to do with kindness or love? Can you do it without accusations or bringing up old issues? You can. When anger subsides, your intelligence and wisdom return.

Most issues between couples never get solved. Issues like this are normal for most relationships with differences like this:

  • neat vs messy

  • careful vs adventurous

  • extrovert vs introvert

  • late vs on time

  • emotional vs rational

  • thrifty vs spending

  • planning vs spontaneous

Successful couples usually solve these with some combination of compromise, negotiation and forgiveness. They somehow keep the kindness in those discussions and stop discussions from escalating into fight or flight

Take it Further: Learn to Make your Relationship Better

There are many ways to improve your relationship. Here are some you might try:

Dixon Zalit is a counsellor in Vernon BC, offering counselling for stress and anxiety, relationships and other therapy topics.



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