5 Ways to De-Escalate a Fight with Your Spouse

Did you know that conflict is a healthy part of a relationship? Actually, if you are in a marriage or know someone who claims that they and their partner never fight, it is most likely that one spouse is dominating the relationship in an unhealthy way, and the other one is not voicing the opinion appropriately. Fighting well with the goal of discovery, growth, and a final resolution is the goal. When our fights escalate, and we find ourselves feeling unsafe and defeated, then we need to learn some new conflict resolution skills. 

To be completely honest, de-escalation is something that my husband and I struggle with. It seems that we can go from “Can we talk?” to “I can’t believe how awful you are” within seconds. This makes conflict feel scary and unsafe in our home rather than a healthy part of a relationship. As a result of our lack of skill in this area, we’ve had to enlist the help of others, mostly counselors, in order to teach us how to disagree and how to de-escalate conflict when it starts getting out of hand. 

Here are a few ways to manage conflict when it arises in your marriage: 

1. Accept the Influence of Our Partner

Accepting influence looks like avoiding being defensive when your partner has a complaint. Instead of letting your husband or wife know that they are wrong when they express a concern or need to agree with them and affirm why they are right. This could sound like saying, “You have a good point,” or “I also noticed that.” This keeps you on the same team and helps you work together to find a solution to your problem rather than taking a posture that automatically puts you at odds. 

2. Take a Break When Things Get Heated

Many times, in each couple, there is a pursuer and an avoidant partner. In my marriage, I am the pursuer, and taking a break when things escalate is hard for me, but it’s one of my husband’s favorite ways to diffuse conflict. Once our brains “flip,” meaning our emotions are running the show and we are no longer able to communicate rationally, the only way to reestablish healthy communication is by calming our minds and bodies. We know that touch, emotional connection, and other calming techniques can help get our thinking brains back. 

If you are both upset, though, you may not be available to connect emotionally or offer a healthy physical touch. The best next option is to take an intentional break from the conflict, allowing your mind and body to get back to a calm state. As the pursuer I find myself feeling most safe when we take the approach when we agree on a time to come back to the conversation before stepping back. I want to be assured that we won’t just avoid the issue indefinitely, but I will confess that I’ve seen the practice of agreed-upon breaks when conflict breaks out really help us. Once we get overly upset with each other all that happens is we get more and more upset the longer we talk. Returning at an agreed-upon time most times allows us to really consider what we really want to be resolved, apologize for the things we didn’t mean to communicate, and focus more clearly on how we can come to a mutual agreement. 

3. Build Up Positivity in Your Relationship 

It takes five positive comments to make up for one negative comment. In marriage, I propose that oftentimes, it takes years of hard work and forgiveness to help undo the damage of one really pointedly mean comment from your spouse. It’s important that we “build up” positive experiences in order to make us more resilient when the hard or negative moments come around. The more love and respect we feel in our home and relationship with them, the easier it will be to return to that state when things go off the rails. If we all the time feel negative and treat our spouse negatively then it’s much harder to bounce back from intense conflict. 

We’ve seen this negative cycle start and keep going for years on end. Over time, almost any comment or conversation led to conflict. It was an exhausting loop that took intense effort to reverse. Even now, if one of us starts easing off from our commitment to encouraging the other, we get back on that negative loop again. We have to fight for positive relational patterns in our marriages. 

4. Lighten the Mood

Laughter, music, affection, or a joke are all ways to lighten the mood when things get tense. Basically, we just have to find a way to disrupt the downward spiral we see going into effect when conflict starts escalating. Pointing out something comical about the situation, leaning in to hug rather than yell, or putting on a song that makes you both feel more peaceful can instantly lighten the mood in your home. 

5. Be a Good Listener

How often do you actually let your partner fully express themselves once conflict breaks out? Oftentimes we either are too busy making our own points, defending ourselves, or have already given up hope that we don’t really take the time to listen to what our partner is trying to communicate. When you’ve been together for a long time, it’s so easy to start drawing conclusions about your partner’s words, tone, thoughts, and behavior. But it’s really unhelpful and unfair to connect those dots before giving your spouse a chance to freely share how they are feeling.

Listen before speaking. Don’t disagree, but agree. Wait to share your “take” on the situation until your spouse has had a chance to fully process their tough feelings. Ask questions. Make eye contact. Be open. Recap what you hear being said. Affirm your love for them. Ask what could make this better. Apologize even if it’s not your fault. Conflict is not about who is right; it’s about reconnecting and hearing your partner out. This is hard but it’s the goal in marriage, to be on the same team. My challenge is your challenge, and we can’t share each other’s burdens without those tough and raw conversations. 

Remember that to make love last a lifetime, we have to be willing to say sorry a million times and forgive each other a million and one. Remaining connected as one flesh can be hard, messy work. Sometimes, we get cancer as a couple, and we have to take dramatic measures to cut out the mass that is making us sick. Learning how to fight well is vital to continuing to discover together what each of your needs and wants are. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes 

Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for She has most recently published a devotional, Comfort: A 30 Day Devotional Exploring God’s Heart of Love for Mommas. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.

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