Turn rupture into repair: How to navigate relationship arguments in the 'new normal'

It's natural for couples fight sometime, and it has been even more likely over the past year.

Ian Kerner is a licensed marriage and family therapist, writer and contributor on the topic of relationships for CNN. His most recent book is a guide for couples, "So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex."

(CNN)I often wish I could hang a sign outside my now virtual office that reads, "Leave your guns at the door."

Not unlike a saloon owner in the Old West, I want the couples I see to take a breath and view the space as neutral territory. Of course, that was difficult for many of us even in "normal" times — and the pandemic has only made things worse.
Increasingly, couples in trouble are coming to me in an even more heightened state, lashing out at each other, bottling up their emotions or turning to sarcasm or passive-aggressiveness. It's natural to fight sometimes in our intimate relationships, and it has been even more likely over the past year. As much as we love each other, we're on top of each other and exposed to more stressors.
    "After more than a year of constant togetherness and stress, people's emotional reserves are tapped," explained clinical psychologist Alexandra H. Solomon at The Family Institute and a clinical assistant professor at Northwestern University in Illinois. "This creates impatience that leads us to speak before we think. Many couples are also facing huge decisions with life-or-death consequences: whether to travel, to have their kids return to in-person school, to return to the office for work."
      All of these stressors can add up, and the next thing you know, you're taking it out on your significant other, or vice versa. Your relationship has ruptured. But with rupture should come repair. It's challenging to control your reaction to that rupture — those stress hormones flow, your pulse races, and you might as well have steam coming out of your ears. But you can control how you repair things, using these tried-and-true techniques.

      Take time to cool down

      When you're under acute stress, your caveman (or cavewoman) physiology takes over, and your fight-or-flight response kicks in. With an increased heart rate, shallow breathing and impaired reasoning, keeping your emotions in check can be a struggle.
        Make the decision to flee, not continue fighting. The body takes about 20 minutes to calm down after the fight-or-flight response is activated, so take advantage of that time to let your anger subside.
        "Tell your partner that you're not in a space to contribute to the discussion in a useful way, suggest taking a break, and then return to it when you've both cooled off," said couples therapist Sara Nasserzadeh, who is based in Beverly Hills, California. Go for a run, walk your dog, practice some deep breathing — anything that doesn't contribute to your argument.
        If, like many people, you purchased a