- Holly Sullivan
How to Stop Nasty Arguments With Your Partner
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Do arguments with your partner turn nasty? Maybe you’re unsure how these fights happen. Maybe you’re confused about how issues escalate so quickly. One minute, you’re trying to make your point, and the next minute, you’re saying unkind things that can’t be unspoken. It all happens so fast. It feels like a hurtful mess.
We’ve all been in that place—where we’ve said something we regret. We’d like a “rewind” button. Maybe then we would be softer or try more patiently to explain. The regret is real--and so is feeling stuck. You try and try again to do things differently, but you don’t know how to improve your relationship. You are left feeling alone, regretful, and disconnected from your partner again. You might feel helpless and wondering, how do we fix this hamster-wheel cycle?
So Let’s Rewind
First, let’s go back. What happened? Although it seems like the nasty surfaced instantly, something happened. There was a trigger. Maybe it was the tone of your partner’s voice or a particular look or glance. Something happened.
Discovering the trigger is essential because it provides information for you. Rather than just allowing arguments to escalate, pinpointing the trigger can help you slow down and take more accountability for what’s happening inside of yourself—before conflict rises.
For example, let’s talk about Chris and Sarah. When Chris and Sarah try talking through issues, Chris unknowingly raises an eyebrow. This is a trigger for Sarah. She sees the raised eyebrow and starts automatically feeling bad about herself and thinking bad thoughts. This all happens within seconds. Both Chris and Sarah are unaware of what just happened—and off they go back into a negative cycle with each other.
So, be curious about yourself and your relationship. Try rewinding a past argument in your head, noticing potential triggers. Pay attention to what happened the moment before you felt your frustration.
Once you start becoming more aware of triggers, you can use this information to create a different type of dialogue with your partner. Instead of automatically going to anger, try pausing when you notice the trigger. Ask yourself:
What am I feeling right now, underneath my frustration?
What do I say to myself about what’s happening, or what meaning am I making?
Where do I feel my feelings in my body?
Then what do I do?
For example, when Sarah feels triggered by Chris raising an eyebrow, Sarah feels her chest tighten, and her breathing becomes shallow. Sarah gets nervous and insecure, “What if I’m too much for Chris?” She then lashes out with hurtful words instead of showing Chris her softer side—the side that’s hurting and wants a connection with Chris.
Let’s Do Things Differently
Sarah is discovering a lot about herself by being curious. Rather than just go to anger, she learns there is much more happening. Once Sarah notices the trigger and starts to unpack her reactions, she can approach Chris differently.
So Sarah pauses. Instead of showing Chris anger, she turns to Chris and says, “Chris, when I see you raise your eyebrow, I feel insecure. I don’t know if I’m too much for you. And then I lash out to protect myself instead of showing you how much I’m hurting and need you.”
This is different for Chris, who can take in Sarah’s words rather than get defensive. They can start having another type of conversation, one that brings them closer. Their cycle didn’t win. Now, keep in mind that change takes time, and Chris may not be immediately receptive. This may be new information that’s difficult to process. Sarah may feel blocked when approaching Chris differently. This is normal and workable.
Over time, Chris and Sarah learn that they can change things. They don’t have to let their cycle take control. Instead, they can have different conversations, creating connection and closeness.
If you want to learn how to communicate better with your partner, consider couples therapy to help you be successful.