How To Diffuse An Argument (Like Happy Couples Do)


Want to know how to diffuse an argument?
Or diffuse a situation that has got out of control?
And do so in a way that doesn’t cause long-term resentment?

When it comes to fights in a relationship, we can surprisingly learn something from the Bananarama song:

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”.

The reality of relationships is that most couples fight from time to time. This is NORMAL. So the critical point to maintaining a healthy happy relationship is not so much the fact that you are fighting (because that’s normal) …but how you handle those fights.

And the reality is there are a number of different methods to doing this and diffusing a fight before it gets out of control.

How Relationship Therapists Advise You To Handle Fights

First, let’s look at how a relationship therapist will advise you on this matter…

Traditionally, in most relationship therapy sessions, the therapist will advise couples to handle conflict head-on and relentlessly. If someone tries to change the subject, they are forced to come back and stick with the topic until it is resolved.

The idea behind this is to help get to the root source of the conflict and so get both parties to work through it until it is resolved. While this does have a certain degree of success (and I recommend it), there is just one small thing your therapist is unlikely to ever tell you.

And here it is…

This is generally NOT how happy couples naturally handle their fights. World renowned relationship expert John Gottman (best known for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction) found through his research that happy couples will, instead, generally try to disrupt their fights in all sorts of different ways. Methods they use to defuse an argument include:

  • Going off on irrelevant tangents of conversation
  • Telling jokes
  • Finding a benign reason to end the conversation

These are methods a traditional relationship therapist would generally try to put a stop to. But for some reason, they seem to work for happy couples.

How come?

There are three reasons why this unconventional method seems to work. They are:

  1. Prevents Escalation Of The Argument: However crude the above tactic might appear, it achieves one key goal – it prevents the argument from escalating. “Take the bin out” never becomes “You’re a bad person”. And that’s a good thing.
  2. Keeps Both Parties Calm: Our ability to argue well is dependent on our ability to keep calm. Once an argument starts to get heated and the persons heart rate goes above 100, the persons ability to argue in a rational manner becomes affected. Any argument that is handled calmly stands a good chance of being resolved. And that’s a good thing.
  3. Both Parties Are Rational: At the end of all this, happy couples are smart enough to know to take the key points brought up by their partner on board …and resolve to fix them. They are smart enough to do this without allowing the argument to escalate any further than is necessary. And that’s a good thing.

Now whether you want to debate this tactic or not, the reality is that this is what happy couples tend to do in practice. And I’ll be honest, this is generally what I tend to do myself!

The Problem Is Though…

That not all couples are rational.

Happy couples have success with the above tactic because they are both rational. They listen to the argument brought up by their parter, then change the subject to avoid the argument from becoming any bigger than is necessary …and then quietly resolve to fix that problem (often without verbally saying this to their partner).

This diffuses the situation and prevents the build up of contempt which often happens as a result of repeated arguments which are never resolved.

This tactic will not work if one person is rational and the other irrational …or both parties are irrational. If someone is irrational, they won’t be smart enough to de-escalate an argument like this and resolve to fix the points brought up by their partner.

This is largely dependent on the individual persons personality type and the personality type of their partner (and how both of these personality types tend to compliment or conflict with one another).

There are 4 main personality types. They are:

  1. Dominant personality type
  2. Influencial personality type
  3. Supporter personality type
  4. Conservative personality type

Psychologists call this the DISC personality system. And understanding which personality type you have and which one your partner has is critical to understanding why you and your partner may be fighting (and how to fix this). I cover these 4 personality types in my book “THE LOVEMAP CODE: How To Make Someone Fall In Love With You Using Psychology” and show how to use this information to not only resolve conflicts, but make the person fall in love with you.

If you and your partner each have a personality type that abrades with the other, then going down the traditional relationship therapy route of tackling conflict head-on (as unpleasant as this may seem) might be your only solution. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

John Alex Clark is a Relationship & Life Coach. He is the founder of the website Relationship Psychology.

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