In the entry on “Making Up” in Greenburg and O’Malley’s tongue in cheek handbook for avoiding love and marriage, the following points to consider when resolving a fight are given: 

  1. The person who started the fight must be the one to end it.
  2. The person who was wrong must be the one to end it.
  3. If the person who started the fight and the person who was wrong are not the same person, the fight can never be ended.

For those of us who do not want to be stuck in a cycle of negativity, Dr. Gottman’s words from Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work may be more useful: 

“Your future together can be bright even if your disagreements tend to be very negative. The secret is learning the right kind of damage control. You may discover that your partner is more conciliatory during arguments than you realized—once you know what to listen for!” 

Though we all naturally attempt to repair our interactions with our partners when the conversation careens off the tracks and into negative territory, our attempts to de-escalate these conversations often fail without us knowing why. 

Dr. Gottman’s scientific studies involving thousands of couples have revealed the usefulness of several constructive steps to making and receiving repair attempts!

Here are a few examples of phrases that you can use to get your message through. If they feel awkward or forced, use language that you feel more comfortable with:

I Feel…

  • I am getting scared 
  • Please say that more gently
  • That felt like an insult 
  • I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now

I Need to Calm Down…

  • I just need this to be calmer right now 
  • Can I take that back?
  • I need your support right now 
  • Can we take a break?

Sorry…

  • Let me try again
  • I’m sorry
  • I really messed up, I can see my part in this
  • I want to say this more gently but I don’t know how

I Appreciate…

  • I know that this isn’t your fault
  • Thank you for…
  • I understand
  • I love you

Try to find a way to resolve disagreements by asking your partner about their concerns by finding common ground, stating that their point of view makes sense. It also helps to share when you feel persuaded or that you feel that you both are moving towards a solution.

Remember to take a break if you really need to calm down or feel flooded with emotion, feel that your conversation has become entirely derailed, or feel that your partner’s emotional state (or your own!) is impeding the ability of the two of you to have a constructive conversation. To “Stop Action,” as Dr. Gottman calls this in his Weekend Workshop for Couples, you can simply ask to stop, ask for a break, ask to change the subject, or observe that you are getting off track. Make sure that you both agree on a time when you will return to the discussion after you have both calmed down.

We hope that you can use Dr. Gottman’s third skill of Managing Conflict in your own disagreements with your partner in two ways: to exercise better judgment in interpreting your partner’s statements (and their possible implications) before your disagreement escalates, and to limit the damage that such disagreements can create in your relationship by directing your conversations into positive territory. Practice these skills along with those from our blog entries last week, and look forward to Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, in which we will share an exercise to help you practice repair attempts. Have a great week!


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More in The Sound Relationship House
Manage Conflict: Repair and De-Escalate

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.