The Advice I Give Couples Who Are Constantly Fighting, According To 7 Therapists
When couples are stuck in a cycle of constant arguing, this is what therapists suggest to help them break free.
Arguments are a normal part of any healthy relationship. But if you find yourselves fighting all the time — not only disagreeing but sniping at one another, yelling, walking away angrily — that veers into unhealthy territory. Such a pattern can be hard to break, particularly when you’re busy parents. But it needs to be addressed before it’s too late or else the cycle of bad habits continues and becomes harder to break. When therapists try to help couples who are constantly fighting, they often have go-to suggestions for putting them on another path. We asked seven different therapists about the advice they offer couples who are stuck in a fighting cycle and they offered solutions to help break patterns, undo assumptions, and build one another up. Here’s what they told us.
1. Slow Down And Listen More
“When working with couples who are constantly arguing, I want to know if they're still taking the time to listen and understand what their partner is actually saying to them. The pattern of an argument in a relationship is typically predictable, and often that means we're just waiting for our partner to finish their part so we can do ours. This, in practice, means we've stopped listening to what they're saying and are just waiting for our cue to say our line. It's not a very productive or satisfying way to interact with our partner. If you take it slow and don’t rush, you’ll be surprised at what you’ve actually heard versus what you assumed you would hear.” - Caleb Birkhoff, LMFT
2. Remember That Not Everyone Thinks The Same Way
“One of the first things I work with couples to unlearn is the faulty logic that people all think the same way, and hold the same values as they do. This myth makes it easy to believe that if a value isn't respected, the other person doesn't care. That’s usually followed by thoughts like, ‘If it were me, I would never…’ Suddenly we interpret things as personal attacks and pair them with assumptions that the other person did something frustrating on purpose. I try to teach couples not to assume that, and that just because a partner makes a mistake or does something to upset them, the intention isn't necessarily to make them unhappy.” - Antoinette Bonafede, LMSW, DBT, REBT
“If you take it slow and don’t rush, you’ll be surprised at what you’ve actually heard versus what you assumed you would hear.”
3. Put Your Partnership First.
“I work with couples, mostly around complex parenting issues like raising a child with major behavior problems, or serious learning and social challenges. I often tell both partners to think of their marriage (or partnership) as their primary relationship, and that it has to be attended to and cared for no matter what else is going on in the family. This may be very different from what they have thought or have been told, which is usually to put their children first. If that primary relationship is prioritized, other problems are far easier to face and solve, especially when parents can join forces and not fight against each other. When it comes to parenting, there is strength in numbers!” - Naomi Angoff Chedd, LMHC, BCBA, LBA and Director of Counselor Support Services at Counslr
4. Reexamine Your Sex Life
“Sex is a very important part of a couples life and as a sex therapist. When working with couples who are constantly arguing, I aim to address both their communication patterns and the impact of those patterns on their sexual relationship. Specifically, I encourage couples to engage in structured discussions about their sexual desires, boundaries, and expectations. For example, I’ve helped couples use pleasure guides to individually explore their own sexual pleasure through self-exploration and self-pleasuring exercises. This helps them better understand their own desires and communicate them to their partner. The point is to empower couples to address sexual concerns with empathy, patience, and a willingness to seek help, which are all essential to a healthy relationship.” - Rachel Nithya Karat, Consultant Psychologist
5. Think of a Compliment
“I work with many families shortly after their first child is born. According to research by the Gottman Institute, two thirds of couples report relationship dissatisfaction after a baby is born. New parents fight frequently because having a new baby is very stressful, and obviously a new experience for both patterns. Partners usually fight when the stressor seems to be within their relationship, and not outside of it. I try to have them focus on a new baby as an external stress and not one inherent to their relationship. I encourage each person to give their partner a specific compliment about how they were either a good parent or good partner that day. This helps the partners feel seen by each other and creates connections based on problem solving.” - Jamie Kreiter, LCSW, PMH-C
“Couples can learn to de-escalate and avoid their conflict by recognizing their typical dance moves or patterns, and stopping things before they get too caught up.
6. Recognize Your Typical Patterns
“When helping couples who constantly argue, I regularly ask, ‘What’s happening inside when you're fighting?’ This is a great question to help them reframe. One partner might be thinking, ‘I'll keep quiet so I don't make it worse.’ This can be reframed as that partner caring about protecting the relationship. The point is that couples can learn to de-escalate and avoid their conflict by recognizing their typical dance moves or patterns, and stopping things before they get too caught up. I help couples learn the importance of reframing so that they can see the good intentions in their partner’s actions. Is one person really trying to hurt or upset the other one? Or is the response really coming from someplace good?” - Phoebe Rogers, Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Coach
7. Work On Resolving Arguments Instead of Winning Them
“When couples fight often, I try to help them identify in themselves the ineffective ways of communication. According to the Gottman Institute, there are four: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. If couples can identify the issue in their communication style, they can apply the antidote: gentle startup, being proactive and expressing appreciation, taking responsibility, or engaging in self-soothing when overwhelmed with difficult emotions. It’s no surprise that learning how to identify and resolve these problems makes conversations more productive. It's not about being ‘right,’ it's about validating the experience of your partner - even if you may disagree. Taking a solution-focused approach through effective communication will help each person feel heard and respected.” - Michelle Tangeman, LMFT, BCBA