How to have it out without hitting below the belt.

By Marisa Cohen
Updated September 06, 2017
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Now matter how deeply in love you and your partner are, you are inevitably going to disagree about something—which set of in-laws to spend the holidays with, whose turn it is to clean out the litter box, or which politician is ruining the country. And while all couples have different styles of fighting, there are a few rules everyone should follow to keep it clean and come out stronger together.

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1 Don’t Pull Out the Killer Ammo.

Everyone knows the one thing they could bring up that would totally devastate their partner, whether it’s a dark secret from their childhood or an embarrassing failure they still haven’t gotten over. Show you love your partner even when you’re angry by never, ever using that info as a weapon. “Going below the belt is so detrimental, it’s very hard to come back from that,” says Jennifer Kromberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Torrence, California.

2 Stick to the Topic…For Now.

If you’re upset about how your partner leaves dirty clothes all over the floor, don’t veer off into a fight about his overbearing mother; the fight will just escalate and you’ll never resolve the original problem. “If every minor argument finds its way back to a bigger topic, it’s important to note the unresolved anger,” says Kromberg. “Say, ‘Let’s work out the laundry issue right now, but we need to come back to the other topic at a later time.’” If you just can’t make headway on the bigger topic, consider seeing a marriage counselor, she says.

3 Work Towards a Resolution.

The best way for any fight to be resolved with no lasting damage is for each party to give a little and find a way to meet in the middle.

4 Don’t Attack Your Partner’s Character.

Instead of shouting out hurtful things like, “You’re so stupid! You never listen,” talk about how your partner’s actions are affecting you, says Kromberg. “You can say, ‘I feel like I’m not being heard,’ or ‘I feel like the burden of all the chores in the house falls unfairly on me, and that makes me exhausted and angry.’”

5 Listen Without Interrupting.

“You’re in this fight to be heard and understood, and you owe it to your partner to hear what he or she is saying, too,” says Kromberg. If you keep jumping in without letting your partner finish a sentence, it’s a sign you’re not listening. “If you feel your partner is just going on and on, focus for a minute and then say, ‘Okay, I think I understand your point,’ and then repeat back what you think he’s trying to get across,” Kromberg suggests.

6 No Emotional Blackmail Allowed.

Twisting the conversation around to play with your partner’s emotions is an underhanded move, says Kromberg. “When you say something like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m just a terrible person then, I don’t know why you married me,’ then he has to spend the time making you feel better. It closes the door to any opportunity to have a productive dialogue.”

7 Take a Timeout.

Kromberg suggests you use the 10-minute rule. “If you’re not getting anywhere in ten minutes, you need to stop and take a time out,” she says. Retreating to your own corners and cooling down can help you rethink the argument from both sides. But there are two caveats: You have to set up the rule in advance, not in the middle of a fight. And you both have to agree to come back to the discussion within a day, says Kromberg. “If you’re not ready, you at least have to check in. Say, ‘I understand we haven’t finished discussing this, but I need a little more time.’”