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The 6 Best Tips For De-escalating Conflict We've Gotten From Relationship Experts

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February 6, 2021

Conflict in and of itself won't necessarily make or break a relationship. The ways in which a couple deals with conflict, however, can. Dealing with conflict in a healthy and productive way is not easy—no matter how long you've been with someone.

To help, we rounded up six of the best pieces of advice we've received on de-escalating relationship conflict.

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Give each other space, but communicate your triggers first. 

If you're in the heat of the conflict, the best way to de-escalate is to temporarily separate and allow the cortisol and other stress chemicals flooding your system—and triggering fight/flight—to gradually decrease so you're able to have some perspective and think more clearly. 

However, sometimes, when one person takes a timeout, the other person feels abandoned. To de-escalate relationship conflict, try to truly become a team player with your partner. Get clear on the fact that you're in this together, neither of you is perfect, and you're both going to get reactive sometimes. 

Be clear on what works best for you when you become reactive, as well as what feeds into your reactivity. Talk about things you can do that de-escalate the conflict without triggering each other. 

For example, before just walking away, your partner might need you to say I'm taking a timeout, but I'll be back in 10 minutes. I just want to get my head clear.

Alicia Muñoz, LPC, couples' therapist 

Give your partner a mood check before exploring the conflict further. 

A mood check can be a good way of testing whether it is an appropriate time to explore tension or conflict. Ask your partner if everything is OK or how they are feeling. If they respond in a way that addresses the question calmly and stays on task, that is a sign the situation is stable enough to explore the conflict further. If your partner reacts with an angry or irritable tone and things escalate quickly, be willing to walk away and address the issue at another time.

Chamin Ajjan, M.S., LCSW, A-CBT, counselor and sex therapist

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Share your perspective while acknowledging its limits.

When you're upset about something related to your partner, bring it up to them by saying: "I have a story in my head that..." 

For example, "I have a story in my head that you're mad with me because I didn't pay attention to you at the party we were at." 

By doing this, you're acknowledging that you've made meaning out of something that might not be true. By describing your perspective as a "story," the other person is able to hear how you're viewing a situation without feeling the need to become defensivebecause you've already acknowledged that it's just your perspective and not necessarily the only perspective. This keeps your partner from feeling blamed or attacked while also giving them the opportunity to recognize how they may have hurt you, regardless of their intention. 

Effy Blue, relationship coach 

Ask your partner to reflect what you've just told them. 

When you're done expressing your feelings, ask your partner to repeat what you just said. For example, Would you be willing to reflect any of the things you heard just now? It's really important for me to feel like I've been heard.

Be sure to ask this gently, not to demand it.

This process of reflection allows both partners to slow down and make sure they're on the same page. Those who are skilled in active listening might do this already, but it's OK to ask for it if your partner doesn't do it instinctively.

Marla Mattenson and Julian Colker, relationship and intimacy experts

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Approach with the intent to learn. 

Approach with the intent to learn. Oftentimes the way we behave in an argument is based around 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 simply out of a desire to keep their emotions at bay. 

But there is a major difference between looking for solutions simply to control someone and actually opening yourself up to learn about why they feel the way they do and why you feel the way you do. When you reframe your mindset this way, you start to see conflict, not as something to win or lose but as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D., relationship counselor

Avoid lumpy carpet syndrome.

It is essential to learn how to listen to and talk about our partner's grievances. We need to stop pushing matters under the rug and to either deal with hurt or conflict right away or to discard them as inconsequential. 

In healthy relationships, there are no lumps in the rug; instead, we stay in the moment. This means that instead of keeping a black book of resentments, we try to manage the situations that cause them when they happen.

The person with the hurt feelings needs to find a way to protest if the rupture is significant or truly let it go if it's not.

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

Linda Carroll, LMFT, marriage therapist

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