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Sick of arguing? Learn useful tips for improving your relationship…

Endless conflicts got you down? Disagreements are a natural part of any relationship – and how you handle those disagreements can make a major difference in happiness for both you and your partner.

“How couples disagree is one of the most important indicators of the health of their relationship,” says Dr. John Sharp, MDLIVE’s Chief Behavioral Health Officer. “Conflicts happen – it’s inevitable – and the state of your relationship can rest on how well you communicate with each other about these conflicts.”

Luckily, according to Dr. Sharp, people can easily learn to disagree more constructively by adopting new communication tools and techniques. The next time you run into conflict, try these tips:


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1) Clearly communicate how your partner’s actions make you feel.

“Sometimes, couples think if they’re never disagreeing, their relationship is healthy – but that’s not necessarily true,” says Dr. Sharp. “It can mean they’re avoiding dealing with conflicts, not expressing their feelings, and letting issues go unresolved.”

Unresolved issues often lead to resentment and big blow ups down the road. Dr. Sharp recommends using a simple method to express your feelings. Try filling in the blanks in the following sentence:

“When you say / do , I feel .”

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2) Don’t overgeneralize.

Your partner says, “I don’t care what we have for dinner” – but then later gets upset that you didn’t prepare steak.

“You ALWAYS get upset no matter what I cook,” you say.

When people overgeneralize in this kind of situation, says Dr. Sharp, it turns a specific problem into a larger, more complicated conflict that’s more difficult to resolve.

“Address the specific problem in the moment, without turning it into a bigger generalization that can feel like a personal attack,” says Dr. Sharp.

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3) Try a cooling-off period.

When a disagreement gets heated, it’s much better to walk away and take some time to cool off than to let the situation escalate.

“Your partner has to trust that you’re going to come back, but cooling-off periods can keep a situation from devolving into unproductive yelling and screaming,” says Dr. Sharp. Take a few minutes to calm down, so your brain can catch up with your emotions.

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4) Don’t involve alcohol.

“Alcohol can make an already emotional situation worse,” says Dr. Sharp. Drinking affects your inhibitions, your reasoning, and your ability to interpret your partner’s words and nonverbal cues – and it can make people more aggressive. If you or your partner is drinking, it’s probably not the best time to address a conflict. Wait until both of you are sober and can communicate clearly.

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5) Set a time to talk.

If there’s never a good time to communicate, make an appointment with each other to have a level-headed discussion.

“It may seem too formal,” says Dr. Sharp, “but setting an appointment is a way to make things happen if it doesn’t seem to fit in the flow of life in a normal way. Go out to a coffee shop or take a walk together – just try not to argue or have a constructive dialogue late at night or first thing in the morning, when you or your partner are tired and not at your best.“

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6) Check in with a relationship counselor.

According to Dr. Sharp, anyone in a committed relationship who wants to make their relationship the best it can be should consider getting a relationship check-up with a couples therapist.

“A little help can go a long way. In couples therapy, you can make rapid gains and learn new techniques, right away, that will improve your relationship,” says Dr. Sharp. “It usually doesn’t take multiple sessions or a long period of time to see changes, unlike other forms of therapy.”

A couples therapist can serve as a neutral third-party to assess your relationship dynamic and teach you how to disagree more constructively, something Dr. Sharp says is actually relatively easy as long as both you and your partner are willing to try.

“Make sure you choose a therapist who does couples therapy all the time and has expertise in that area,” says Dr. Sharp. To help with neutrality, he also recommends that your couples therapist be new to both you and your partner, not someone you’re already seeing who is willing to add your partner in.


For those who want a more convenient, private way to talk to a therapist, without the hassle of an office visit, Breakthrough, an MDLIVE company, allows you to search through licensed behavioral health therapists who specialize in online couples therapy via secure video. Just log in, choose the therapist that’s best for you, and make an appointment. It’s a safe, affordable, easy way to talk to someone from the comfort of your own home.

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Dr. John Sharp
Chief Behavioral Health Officer, MDLIVE

Dr. Sharp has over 20 years of experience as a board-certified psychiatrist. In addition to his work with MDLIVE, he serves on the faculty at both Harvard Medical School and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and writes for Psychology Today and The Huffington Post. An award-winning educator and best-selling author, Dr. Sharp is also an elected member of The American College of Psychiatrists and served as a standing member of the Examining Committee of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He has been voted by his peers for inclusion in Best Doctors in America for the past seven years in a row. Dr. Sharp received his M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.


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