Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Couple's counselling

Stop arguing with your partner – in 60 seconds.

Are you constantly arguing with your partner?


  • A simple request turns into a shouting match?
  • You feel like you can’t raise anything without it being blown out of proportion?
  • Are one of both of you always on edge? Do little comments cause you to over-react?
  • Are differences of opinion escalating into shouting matches?

When couples come to me concerned about how often they argue, the first thing I do is reassure them. Arguing in a relationship is healthy. It communicates difference, and difference is what keeps a relationship stimulated and passionate. But if those arguments escalate beyond sharing differences into the realm of name-calling, hostility and personal insult, that’s a concern. Escalation of this nature can be damaging for your relationship. It erodes goodwill, reduces intimacy and leaves partners feeling hurt, unheard, and alone.

What’s worse is that the nature of your most recent argument is a pretty good predictor of your next.

The good news is… it’s simple to avoid.

The first sixty seconds are everything.

The number one predictor of how a discussion, complaint or request will end is the tone and style in which it starts.

That means that if the first 1-3 minutes are hostile, aggressive or defensive, it’s likely the argument will escalate and end in a similar manner. Equally, if the interaction starts softly, with kindness, and openness, it’s very likely the interaction will end in the same way.

Whether there’s tension or love present in the first 60 seconds will determine how it ends.

Here are some tips to help you manage the first 60 seconds.

  1. Remove Blame – It’s fine to disagree with your partner, hold an opposing perspective and even complain. But remove blame and criticism. Finding fault will not find you a happy relationship. Instead of “I can’t believe how lazy you are leaving the washing for me to do again”, try “I’m upset that I had to bring the washing in again today even after we spoke about sharing the load”.
  2. ‘I’ before ‘you’ – Describe what you’re experiencing and what you want.
    1. Start with “I feel ” rather than “You are/aren’t”. You’re also less likely to be critical if you start with “I”. And your partner is more likely to hear your whole sentence, instead of becoming immediately defensive.
    2. Framing your request in the positive also helps avoid criticism. Ask for what you want, not what you don’t want. Instead of “You’re always so uptight, you never relax with me anymore” try “I feel a little distant from you at the moment. I would love it if we could relax together tonight”.
  3. Begin with the end in mind – If you are the ‘winner’ of an argument, what is your partner? Set out, not to win, but to understand and be understood. Remember different perspectives are what provide energy in a relationship. Neither perspective is inherently right. So aim to learn more about your partner, and that will change the nature of the interaction.
  4. Most people can’t mind read – if there is something you’re upset about, or dissatisfied with, then share it. Discussions are more likely to escalate if you bottle up a months’ worth of annoyances or hurts. Trying to calmly and logically share these during the heat of discussion is just not going to happen. Discuss them as they arise, and do it with a soft and gentle start-up.
  5. Employ kindness – Kindness is probably the most underrated quality in a happy and fulfilling relationship. Enter that first 60 seconds as if you love the person you’re speaking with, as if you care how they feel, as if your interests are aligned and his or her wellbeing is correlated with yours. Start with kindness, and your discussion is much less likely to escalate into an argument.

Focus on the first 60 seconds – and you could save both of you from hurt that can ruin your entire day.

A whole minute can feel like a long time when tensions are building… but hold out. If you make the full sixty seconds, it’s likely you’ll set the tone for the discussion and carry that through.

If you’re having trouble, a great way to buy time is a feedback loop. A feedback loop is simply repeating back to your partner what you heard them say. Not your judgement or opinion of what they said. Repeat what they actually said. This ensures your partner feels heard – and it can take a lot of heat out the argument in the crucial first minute.

If you successfully manage the first 60 seconds with kindness, love or even just a softer approach, you’re much more likely to avoid escalation.

If you feel like you would benefit from talking through issues with a Couples Therapist, call us today on 02 8968 9397.


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