We've all been there: Something as mundane as asking your partner to put the toilet seat down transforms into a no holds barred argument that hits on all of your relationship sore spots.
Several hours and many cutting remarks later, you've accomplished little outside except battering each other's egos. Exhausted, neither of you is quite sure how such a seemingly innocent request evolved into an epic blowout.
"You're so quick to fume because you have so many other unresolved issues," says Laurie Puhn, bestselling author of Fight Less, Love More. "Couples fight a lot when they don't reach a solution the first time."
Before you get sucked into another donnybrook, consider these tips to break the cycle of bickering:
1. Identify What You're Really Fighting About
Are you really arguing because he didn't take out the trash? Or are you actually upset because of an underlying issue, such as feeling unheard or disrespected when he doesn't remember your requests?
According to Lesli Doares, marriage therapist and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage, couples communicate at the event, topic or issue level. "Fighting occurs down at the issue level because your partner has hit your morals, values, expectations, beliefs or fears," Doares says.
Instead of fighting about a specific event, address the underlying issue that's fueling your fight. If you're fighting about someone not taking out the trash without addressing the real issue of not feeling heard, that unresolved issue will fuel many fights to come.
2. Take Your Emotional Temperature
Using a scale of one to ten, with one being perfectly calm and ten being angry enough to throw someone out a second-story window, take your emotional temperature. "A couple is headed for a fight if one or both of you is higher than a four on that emotional reactivity scale," Doares says. "The more emotional you are, the less information can get through."
If your temperature is above a four, ask your partner if you can both cool down before continuing. Then, you'll be able to ask for what you really want and stay on topic.
3. Reschedule Your Fight
If you're too upset to have an honest and productive conversation, explain to your partner that you need some time to calm down before trying to tackle the issue. Doares suggests couples take anywhere from ten minutes to a few hours to break away from the conversation, calm their emotions and gather their thoughts.
Don't mistake a break for being able to completely avoid addressing the issue, though. "If you say you need a break, you have to give a time and follow through," Doares says. "Otherwise, your partner is never going to believe you."
4. Break the Routine
"Every couple has a fight routine," Puhn says. "You have to break it by doing something physically different."
If you tend to get into screaming matches while standing in the bedroom, try sitting down at the kitchen table the next time things get heated. Being aware of your fight routine and consciously trying to break it will help you and your partner have productive fights rather than an ongoing bickering cycle. "Eventually, you'll do it enough that this 'good' fight becomes your new habit," Puhn says.
Marissa Willman is an accomplished journalist who specializes in writing about relationships and travel. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including The Frisky, VisitPalmSprings.com and The Desert Sun.