How much arguing is normal?
One common question that couples counselors and family therapists face is, “how much fighting is healthy and normal?”
It’s a tough one to answer, because there is no one set amount of fighting a couple can endure before they start to harm their relationship or marriage.
But one thing is for sure — fighting too much, in a way that causes harm to one or both partners, is not okay.
So, how do you stop arguing with your boyfriend, husband, wife or partner when you know you’re fighting too much?
In our latest Expert video, Senior VP of YourTango Experts, Melanie Gorman, asked a few Experts for advice on how people can control their tempers during an argument.
In the super helpful video above, our Experts, including Chris Shea, Sharon Davis, Nancy Dreyfus and Stan Tatkin offer many tips and tricks to help couples control their tempers and fight more fairly.
In addition to that, we’ve compiled a list of steps you can follow to help control your temper, and stop the cycle of fighting unfairly or arguing too much.
1. Talk about how you learned about anger as a child.
Choose a time when everything is going well between the two of you to talk about your history with anger or rage.
Everyone learns about managing anger differently. Your partner may have come from an explosive home where people raised voices or even resorted to violence, while you may have been raised in a home of quiet resentment.
Neither of your stories are something to be ashamed of — they are just the experiences you had, that you need to face in order to find a way to manage anger and frustration together.
Listen quietly and with compassion as your partner talks, and communicate that you care about them.
Understand that it might take one or both of you some time to come to terms with how you were raised, and how it influences you today, especially if you’re not used to talking about this type of deep stuff.
So don’t push for too much all at once.
If this is a tough conversation to have, it might be good to enlist the support of a professional like a counselor, therapist, coach or clergy member whom you trust.
2. Identify your own “triggers” that cause you to lose your temper.
Be honest with yourself, even if it’s not very fun to face.
Remember that even the healthiest, happiest people you know have things that tick them off and push their buttons.
The key is knowing yours, so you can be ready to respond in a healthy way when they are pushed.
Once you have a good sense of what your temper triggers are, talk to your partner about them in a time of peace and calm.
It may help to frame the convo with “I” rather than “you” statements. For instance, you might say, “When I hear ______, I lose my temper because I feel ______.”
Once you know what pushes your buttons, think about how your body feels when that trigger button is hit.
Most likely, your heart rate rises, you start to feel hot, and your muscles clench.
When you feel these things happen, remind yourself that this is what it feels like to go into “fight” mode.
Once you recognize that, you can choose how to proceed before you blow your top.
3. Come up with a phrase or system for when one of you is about to lose your temper.
In our family, we use the “stoplight code”, where green corresponds to calm and cool, yellow means that things are heating up and headed into bad territory, and red means it’s time to STOP.
Another system might work in your marriage, including saying, “I need a time out” or “Let’s cool-down”.
Then agree to separate and walk away for at least fifteen minutes.
You can even put a sign on your door that makes clear you are in cool-down or taking a break, and are not to be bothered.
You may not chase one another, call each other, or text in this time — even if you are tempted.
4. Set a time you are going to come back and talk.
For some couples, twenty minutes is long enough to feel calm and able to approach the other with love and thoughtfulness.
For others, an hour or two works better.
Either way, let the other person know you’re coming back to address it, so they do not feel abandoned.
Walking out in the middle of the fight without saying a word, and then giving “the silent treatment” is NOT the same as taking a break.
That’s why it’s best to come up with a plan before your next argument.
If coming back to it after a short time doesn’t work, try tabling the conversation until the next day.
5. Figure out how to handle conflict better, so you can avoid losing your temper in the first place.
Using the “time out” method is great, but what’s even better is learning how to communicate in a way that won’t make you as angry.
It’s also important to do the work to learn how to manage your temper, so that you don’t have to walk away from conversations as often.
There is no simple guide to learning how to do this, but getting honest with yourself about your role in conflict is an important first step.
Following the steps above (and the advice of our Experts in the video) should help a lot!
If you need to reach out for support to stop fighting with your boyfriend, wife or partner, don’t be afraid!
Couples counseling, as well as individual therapy, are investments toward lasting happiness — both in your personal life and as a couple.
When you envision the relationship you dream of, happiness is no doubt central to it. So don’t be afraid to ask for help in finding it!
When a pipe breaks in your house, you call an in a professional plumber.
If the pipes are bursting in your relationship, reaching out to a professional is just as wise.
Until then, follow these 5 key steps to arguing less and fighting in a healthy way!