15 Ways to Calm a Fight

15 Ways to Calm a Fight - #staymarriedHave you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere? Have you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere AND you wanted it to end, but couldn’t figure out how to stop bickering? The way a couple ends a fight says a lot about the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage. Dr. John Gottman, the foremost researcher on marriage, calls these fight ending techniques “Repair Attempts” and says the way they are delivered and whether or not they are received can predict the longevity of the relationship!

Tony and I agree that in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the overarching ideas really come down to having good manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books on marriage, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? None of the research out there says that couples should avoid fighting. Instead, Dr. Gottman and researchers like him concentrate on how couples fight. One thing they’ve noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive these repair attempts.

I threw out this idea to some friends and asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Here’s what some of them said…

Even if he’s grumpy, he’ll say, “I love you.” What am I going to do? I have to say it back. Even if I’m still mad, it definitely diffuses things.

He hugs me. I usually resist at first, but ultimately it softens me up and we both calm down.

We hold hands. We heard about this somewhere… that you can’t stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with. We’ve tried it, which is hard when you’re mad, but it makes a big difference.

He farts. No matter how mad I am, I turn into a fourteen year old boy when he farts. I can’t stop laughing!

I DIED over that last one! First of all, who can do that on command?

What is a Repair Attempt?

Foundationally, a repair attempt is any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Gottman says that even if someone says, “Ugh, I need a break,” it can come across as stonewalling, but it is actually that person’s repair attempt to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight.

What he’s noticed with couples whose relationships eventually dissolve is that either they aren’t willing to make repair attempts, or if one spouse makes the attempt, the other spouse rejects it. For instance, if Farting Husband was rejected by his wife as being rude or gross instead of received by her with laughter – that would be a failed repair attempt. Or if the wife reaches for her husband’s hand but he rejects her and refuses to hold hers back, it is a failed attempt.15 Ways to Calm a Fight - #staymarried

Can you think of your own common repair attempts? As I think of ours, I’m embarrassed to admit I have rejected Tony’s repair attempts a time or two. I’ve been frustrated or hurt and not willing to believe or remember that he and I are on the same team. I remember him trying to crack a little joke and responding to him with, “Don’t try to change the subject!” Those fights took a lot longer than necessary to de-escalate. Reading through this book and thinking about our own history of fights and arguments, I can see Dr. Gottman’s point. Making and receiving repair attempts well could do a lot to bring us closer together.

There is a long list of repair attempts found in Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work. These can feel forced at first, but as you and your spouse begin to learn some damage control language, you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. These are just some of the repair attempts found in his book.

15 Ways to Calm a Fight - How to make and receive Repair Attempts #staymarried

Pin this list so you can come back to it later!

So, how about you? Since some kind of fighting is inevitable, what do your repair attempts look like? Are you willing to receive your partner’s repair attempts? Are you likely to reject them? Take some time over the next couple of days to talk about these with your spouse. We’d love to hear about your own unique versions of repair attempts in the Comments section below. You never know, another couple might read your repair attempts and they could be just the thing to help them de-escalate their own fights and #staymarried.

If you found this post helpful, we would be honored if you would share it. Our big dream is to see more and more people living in happy and healthy marriages!

Interested in more posts like this? You might like…
What would happen if we did not argue?
Soften Your Startup – A New Way to Approach an Argument
♥ Podcast Episode #10 – The Five Methods of Problem Solving

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarried

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Thank you ever so much for reading, sharing, and being a part of this #staymarried community!

~ Michelle


The #staymarried Book

#staymarried: A Couple's Devotional by Michelle PetersonThe #staymaried Book is a 52 Week Couples Devotional, each chapter exploring how our faith works together with our everyday lives and with relationship research to give a fuller picture of how we can create a marriage that doesn’t simply last, but fulfills our lives and helps us pursue our dreams. Find out more about the book here.


8 thoughts on “15 Ways to Calm a Fight

  1. I think one of the best things a couple can do as a repair attempt during or after an argument is emphatic reflection. Focusing on the other person’s feelings more than your own can help dissolve tension quickly.

  2. Think about your life without this person. I am older. As I age I realize someday my spouse may not be with me. Life is too short to fight so make up and be happy together. Hug your spouse and hold them close and say “I hate it when we fight. I love it when we are friends.”

  3. I just came across your blog and I love what you’re doing! My husband and I, ironically, also have a blog about marriage and how to love your spouse well. I’d love for you to check it out! http://www.wakingoptimism.com 🙂

    In response to this post, I think that realizing that your significant other is trying to repair your relationship in the midst of an argument is the first step. It can be super easy to overlook! But once you realize that they are trying to mend things, it just fills you with a little bit more love and patience for them 🙂

  4. Great post! But I must say, I do try a lot of these and they never seem to calm him much. On occasion though they do work and I think the key is to be mindful of yourself, how you’re coming across to your spouse. It’s difficultt.

    I’m in crisis now, I’ve seen that my husband has been surfing on a divorce-related website _._ and now I’m afraid that the arguments will just get worse if I tell him. I can’t think about the possibility of divorce, but we definitely need to talk.

  5. Stay on opening up my own faults and not talking about the other person’s fault. Be humble to admit own faults first.

  6. Thank you – I really enjoyed the article. The idea of repair atrempts never occurred to me. I will be on the lookout for them as well as trying a few ! Best wishes to all.

  7. Such a great post. Some methods are new to me and I might try. I love the list of 15 things. I think printing this and giving it to your partner is a great way to establish a common understanding of how to calm the other person. I think with most people, just giving them space to calm down is the best way to avoid elevating the problem. Keep up the great posts 🙂

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