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Six Steps To Save Your Relationship From Exploding!

Relationship arguments can escalate quickly. Here's how to stop that happening.

By Matt Turner, Registered Therapeutic Counsellor

We've all given children a time-out at one time or another. But did you know that adults can also benefit from cooling off too? The fact is, when we enter conflict with our partner, often it's due to escalation in our nervous system. Many of us will feel a rise in sympathetic energy, which can feel like your heart racing, your blood pumping, your temperature rising, and your pace of speech increasing not only in speed, but also in volume. Here are six ways to prevent relationship strife.

1. Agree on a "We need a break" signal.

This can be verbal or non-verbal. Something that is familiar, easy to remember and agreeable to both of you is best. Also, chose something that isn't triggering, inflammatory or that pokes at your partner. Something neutral that's shared. Make it something short and quick, and NEVER say it or offer it up in an attacking way. An example might be to make a "T" symbol with your hands.

2. Agree on the cues of nasty fighting.

When you can both calmly analyze your fighting style and notice what your typical patterns, share this information with one another. For some coupes, its name calling. For others, attacking each other with blame. Every couple has their typical go to conflict style, and knowing what style that is, is invaluable! Armed with this information, you now have a better chance at noticing when conflict is happening and intervening quicker.

3. Determine what the meaning of a time out signal is.

Different people can make different meanings to a time out. If you feel emotionally raw, you might feel not cared for if your partner calls a time out. If you are avoidant, then the break might be a really welcomed opportunity to calm down. Discussing with each other what you perceive a time out to be can really help in soothing and repairing when coming back together. Agreeing that a time out is really a way of honouring your relationship and agreeing to give each other space, helps reframe and redefine a time out as a collective tool, rather than an individual one.

4. Agreements of an effective time out.

How will the time out work? For example, if you call it, you should be responsible for rejoining and initiating repair and reconnection. How long should it be for? Research shows that 45-minutes should be a minimum and 24-hours should be the absolute maximum! The nervous system needs time to "cool down", so give it that 45-minutes to begin.

5. Structure your break.

Don't just spend the time out seething! Take some steps to regulate, to offer yourself some care. Deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, orientating to your environment, taking a walk, doing some exercise can all help bring us "back into the room" and out of our heads.

6. Reconnect properly!

When recommending talking with each other, take time to emotionally reconnect and repair before revising the original topic of conflict. Offer 3 things you appreciate about each other, check in with your readiness to connect and talk, tell each other you want the best for your relationship. Then, and only then, try again!

Following these six easy tips will go a long way to helping you manage conflict better, and lead a happier, less stressful life!


Matt Turner is the Owner & Clinic Director of Vida Relationships, Vancouver's premiere couples counselling and relationship therapy clinic. Matt supports individuals, couples, and families in conflict resolution, communication tools and trauma informed healing.

Matt is now taking new clients. To book with Matt today, visit


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