Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Magic Pause: Secrets to Avoiding and Resolving Conflict

6 conflict strategies for stronger relationships.

Timur Weber / Pexels
Source: Timur Weber / Pexels

"The best remedy for anger is delay." -Seneca

Originally I didn't think this post was needed. I practice emotionally focused therapy where tools and strategies usually aren’t emphasized, as once partners have a more secure bond, they actually start to use healthier communication strategies naturally. But still: many client couples and families ask me for homework, tools, and strategies to use outside the office, especially early in therapy. For this reason, I wrote this post.

Good relationships almost always have at least some degree of conflict, but their frequency, intensity, and duration are highly variable. What makes all the difference in variability?

All good relationships have effective repair processes in place. Just like with our human bodies, we can't fully avoid physical accidents or illnesses, but we will be OK as long as our bodies can heal from them.

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, and when emotions escalate, arguments can quickly spiral, potentially harming the relationship deeply if left unaddressed. Just like getting sick and then recovering can strengthen the immune system, conflict in relationships can be a major opportunity for growth and strengthening one's relationships.

Ideally, we don't only work out when we're sick, or brush our teeth when we have cavities. As you know, it's good to be preventative with our health, not only reactive (addressing it after it happens). Thus, proactive conflict prevention is always superior to conflict resolution (again, addressing it after it happens).

What can people do to prevent an argument from intensifying? What are key, simple strategies to keep yourself regulated and resolve conflicts effectively with your partner(s)?

I emphasize taking a step back during heated arguments and discussing other key strategies to maintain healthy relationships with our partners. After all, what matters more at the end of the day than our relationships? The quality of relationships is the quality of life.

The Power of the 5-Second Pause

When a disagreement escalates, it doesn't take a psychological genius to realize our judgment can often get clouded and lead to impulsive reactions that we later regret. Even with all my expertise, this can also happen to me, at least occasionally. My wife and I love each other so much; still, we have conflicts at times. Most of the time, I know that if I slowed down and paused for just a few seconds before I responded, I wouldn't have raised my voice.

Pausing, even for a few seconds, is a powerful strategy that allows us to regain clarity and synchrony with our bodies, emotions, and thoughts so that we can respond wisely. This momentary break provides an opportunity for the nervous system to recalibrate, allowing us to reflect on the issue at hand more clearly, consider the other person's perspective, and evaluate the potential consequences of our actions and words.

Pausing also helps prevent conflict. It allows us to cool down and approach the issue with a clearer, often more objective mind, which is essential for productive communication and conflict resolution. Furthermore, it demonstrates respect for the other person's feelings and a commitment to resolving the issue in a just, healthy, intentional, and mature way.

Key Related Strategies for Regulating Conflict

Even if you use the pause above along with other prevention strategies, conflict in relationships, at least long-term is also somewhat inevitable. Here are six, go-to, simple, easy-to-implement strategies that will reduce the odds of harm, or at least help resolve conflict even when or after it occurs.

1. Active Listening. Effective communication is a cornerstone of healthy relationships. Active listening involves giving your partner your full attention, asking clarifying questions, and empathizing with their perspective. This strategy fosters understanding and demonstrates a willingness to validate their feelings, which, in turn, will encourage them to do the same for you so you can both move forward.

2. Use "I" Statements. When expressing your thoughts and emotions, use "I" statements to avoid blaming or accusing your partner. For example, instead of saying, "You never listen to me," you can say, "I feel unheard when I'm talking about my concerns." This approach encourages open dialogue rather than defensiveness. A pithy formula I learned from Esther Perel to help you increase "I" statements is "when you do X in Y situation, I feel Z."

3. Practice Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Put yourself in your partner'(s') shoes to better comprehend their perspective and emotions. Empathy can bridge the gap between conflicting viewpoints and lead to mutual understanding. So, before continuing to push your point, I would recommend confirming with the other person that they believe that you understand their position. Understanding and empathy do not mean that you have to agree with everything they do and/or say. You and your partner(s) are going to have differences. We all know that you didn't want to have a relationship with someone exactly like you and who agrees, so differences are important. Differences also help us grow, and can often prevent our mind from ossifying over time.

4. Take Responsibility. It's essential to acknowledge your role in the conflict and take responsibility for your actions or words that may have contributed to it. Taking ownership of your mistakes demonstrates maturity and a commitment to growth. One subtle example of this is avoiding "make feel" language. If you say that your partner "makes you feel a certain way," you're not fully taking responsibility for your own emotional responses. Likewise, you saying that "you make them feel a certain way" is equally problematic. While they definitely influence it, how are you feel is not the other person's(s') responsibility. In the spirit of #2 above, you can say "I feel X when…" assuming this responsibility and also foster healing, empowerment, and growth.

5. Set Boundaries. Establishing boundaries is crucial in any relationship. When we respect ourselves and honor our own needs, our capacity for healthy intimacy and connection expand. Discuss and agree upon boundaries with your partner to prevent conflicts from arising in the first place, when possible. Clear boundaries provide a sense of security and respect for each other's needs. Solid relationships have, ironically high degrees of both autonomy or separateness, and connection.

6. Seek Professional Help. If conflicts persist and become unmanageable, seeking couple therapy can be beneficial. Professionals can provide guidance, build stronger bonds, improve communication, and help address deeper issues within the relationship.


Conflict is a natural, unavoidable aspect of human interaction, but how we handle it can significantly impact the health and longevity of our relationships, the most important part of our lives. Oftentimes it's preventable.

Pausing, even briefly, during heated arguments is a crucial strategy for maintaining emotional control and preventing the escalation of conflicts. Additionally, employing active listening, "I" statements, empathy, and taking responsibility can foster effective communication and understanding. Establishing boundaries and seeking professional help when needed are also essential tools to keep sharp in your conflict resolution arsenal.

By recognizing the importance of pausing and implementing these strategies, we can nurture healthy, loving relationships that withstand the test of time. Perhaps nothing else is as important to the quality of our lives.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Jason N. Linder, PsyD
More from Psychology Today