How To Stop Simple Arguments From Turning Into Major Drama

Heartbreak, Self

Conflict isn't about "winning" ... it's about communication and connection.

Nothing devastates a relationship more than a fight that has gone too far.

Sure, it's easy to tell when you're both throwing plates. You know that at that point it's a lose-lose proposition. No one will emerge having "won", though you're both doing all you can to prove that the other is bad, wrong, uncaring—you fill in the blank.

History changes in your mind. You begin to wonder why you are even with this person and believe the two of you will never make up.

But does that stop you?

Even if it's late, you keep hurling hurtful jabs, stopping only at the point of total exhaustion or tears. The next morning is pretty bleak. Don't let this pattern turn into an abusive relationship

Once you let that horse out of the barn, retreat often feels impossible. You can tell if you are about to open the floodgates.

Just notice your language—filled with phrases like "but you," "you never," and "you always."

These words indicate you have stepped over the line. You are no longer thinking and being reflective about what would work. You are no longer open-heartedly sharing your experience or point of view. Instead, you have moved into the attack-blame game.

As a couple, you thrive on interactions where you focus on what would work next time.

You will feel closer when you describe your own experience. But once you begin to assault your partner's character, you move into the forbidden zone. You lose sight of the nuances. You now act as if there's only one intelligent way to look at things which, of course, is your way.

You become a mind reader and know with absolute certainty what the other person is thinking, and intending. You become clear that your partner has no positive thoughts about you. Attacking the other to defend yourself seems like the best offense.

Soon your partner will cross the line as well.

Now you both are in the zone of no winners. If you recognize this spiral into marital chaos, don't give up. Couples can learn to recognize the above warning signs well in advance, before the point of no return.

Be watchful. Catch yourself narrowing your focus on proving that your partner is wholly at fault. Once you start trying to establish who started the battle, you have moved into the attack-blame game. There are no winners.

Challenge yourself to hear your partner's point of view. Nudge yourself toward keeping in mind that most actions come from a myriad of motivations.

As you come to recognize stress and tiredness in yourself or your partner, you can interpret your anger or your partner's as coming from having had a hard day.

You can announce when you get home, that you might be pretty reactive and suggest that the two of you not solve any major problems until you decompress.

When necessary, if you slip into the "always" or "never" language, ask for some alone time until you can regroup. Plan in advance to agree to a cease fire, if you are starting to slip down the slippery slope. Take a walk. Go watch some television. Go meditate.

Win-win interactions occur when both of you are willing to hear the other's point of view.

In this space, you can hear each other and appreciate the extenuating circumstances. You can forgive when you see your partner is truly overwhelmed from dealing with a sick mother, rather than just out to get you.

When you catch yourself starting to dig in to prove you are right, simply back off. Take some time in another room. You both will feel better in the morning.

I am passionate about helping couples in crisis. Some have said to me that they would never have believed that their marriage could survive, but it did survive and thrive. Together, we will discover the blocks to your communicating and understanding each other. If you have become distant because of hurt or even infidelity, you can move beyond the pain. I will identify what fuels your conflicts. My assignments will invite you to find new ways of being there for each other... 

Humans need a good deep relationship. Nothing sustains us more. I would like to help you move beyond the pain. You can learn to trust that the other will be there for you when you turn for support or celebration.

As a marriage counselor and partner to his wife for over 40 years, Dr. Jim Walkup helps couples build their relationship to last a lifetime. Visit his website for a copy of his eBook "A Marriage Counselor’s Secrets To Making Your Marriage Sizzle". Or, if you're in the state of New York, to schedule a Skype appointment or an in-person office appointment, call 914-548-8645 or drop Dr. Walkup an email at

This article was originally published at Mid-Manhattan Marriage Counseling. Reprinted with permission from the author.