The gloves are off, the claws are out, and you and your partner are locked in a heated, intense argument. You recognize that things have gotten out of hand and that instead of working together toward a constructive solution, you are traveling down the dangerous road of personal attacks and amped-up emotions. What should you do when you realize that things have gotten out of control?
These are some sure signs that a fight is heading into dangerous waters: bringing up the past for no good reason, criticizing each other's family or friends, and any sort of name-calling. You know when you or your partner has started to go for the jugular, and when that happens, it is nearly impossible for either one of you to calmly work toward a resolution in that heated moment. At this point, it is best to walk away! Nothing will get accomplished when one or both of you is so fired up. Let cooler heads prevail, and you'll both be grateful later. Do make sure to revisit the argument within 24 hours; set aside a time to speak (calmly!) about it.
Refocus to Create a Shift
When you do reconvene, if you find yourself feeling angry or scared in response to what your partner is saying, focus on a tangible object that you can appreciate. This can be something in your environment (the flowers on the tables, the color of the walls) or, even better, something positive about your partner (his beautiful eyes). When you do this it actually creates a shift in your brain, moving brain activity from the amygdala, where intense emotions are experienced and processed, to a more rational center like the left prefrontal cortex. This will help you feel calm and receptive rather than defensive or angry.
Engage in Authentic Listening
Once your partner has finished expressing his or her feelings, don’t immediately respond. Take a minute to reflect on what you have heard and then repeat it. This is called mirroring; when you do this it helps to avoid misinterpretation and keeps the tempo at a safer pace.
Try Makeup Sex
Moments ago, you were so angry you couldn’t stand to be in the same room, but for some couples the passion of arguing naturally flows into passionate sex. While it’s important not to use sex as an outlet for negative feelings — neither partner should feel at all exploited or abused! — makeup sex can be a great way to reestablish your bond with your partner after a fight. Face-to-face positions are some of the best for makeup sex because they give you the opportunity for rebuilding the intimacy and affection that may have been lost in your argument. These positions are also often ones in which both partners have equal control. You might also try lying side by side to enhance feelings of closeness as you look into each other’s eyes and wrap your bodies together.