Every relationship has its ups and downs, but not every relationship is poisoned by toxic arguments. If you and your husband seem to be fighting too much or too harshly, what should you do?

Many people make the mistake of trying to eliminate fighting from their marriage, thinking that’s the key to a happy relationship. But the opposite is more often true. The key is knowing how to fight with your husband, not how to avoid it.

Both men and women often try to avoid a fight with their spouse, to run away or leave the room. But a better thing to do is work on staying in a fight and making it productive rather than destructive. Have you ever shouted back and forth at your husband and then later, probably much later, realized that something he said during the heat of the fight actually made sense?

argumentEven while you were screaming at each other, purple-faced with rage, your brain was still listening to what you were saying, and your brain slowly processed this information later. So, although the fight was pretty ugly and scary, some communication still took place. That’s something to focus on. How do you maintain that communication while decreasing the decibel level?

Sometimes people only communicate their true feelings about a marriage when they get really angry. It’s sad but true, and very human. You finally hit your breaking point and you shout out that secret grievance you’ve been nursing and hiding for years, detonating it like an atom bomb right on your spouse. The problem with atom bombs like this is that you’re usually too close and get hit by the bomb, too!

The best way to avoid these kinds of destructive fights is to work on establishing safe, two-way, honest communication with your husband. I recommend the technique of “time sharing.” This is a process where you take turns talking and being silent. You speak for a period of time (three to five minutes is best) while your husband says nothing, just listens. Then he gets his turn to talk while you say nothing. You don’t have to answer or respond directly to what the other person said – it’s more important for you to practice saying how you feel, expressing your thoughts, and asking for what you need.

Driving in the car is a great time to practice this if you two are alone. Shut off the radio and take turns talking. Try to keep the focus on yourself – talk about how you are doing, what you’re excited about or afraid of or anxious about (not everything you say has to be directly about your marriage), or something else going on in your life. The point is to talk about yourself – that’s who your husband is married to, after all, and it might interest him to know what’s going on in your mind.

And it’s good for you to hear what he’s thinking and feeling. Don’t try to change his thoughts or feelings. Just listen to them. Let him be who he is. If something he says makes you angry, it’s OK to express that you are angry, if you do it in a safe way, when it’s your turn to talk. But don’t waste your three minutes berating your husband. Stay focused on yourself.

Happy marriageIf you two get in the habit of exchanging ideas and feelings regularly, then it won’t be such a surprise when one of you says something unexpected. Having a safe and helpful conversation takes practice, and this time sharing technique is a way to keep things safe, make them useful, and to learn to respect each other.

Passionate fights may still break out sometimes – that’s quite normal. What do you do in the heat of the conflict? Well, most experts think you should try to interrupt the pattern by taking a break, even a short one of a minute or so. That gives you a chance to clear your head and put things in perspective. If it’s late and you need to go to bed, then do so. Forget that old saw about never going to bed mad. Better to go to bed grumpy and get some sleep than to stay up all night and spend the next day an angry zombie. You may find that going to bed mad results in waking up the next morning feeling much better.

If you are both still angry, it’s also possible to make a date to continue the fight. Agree to continue the conversation later, and make time for it. It’s important for you and your husband to show each other that your feelings are important, that they matter. Respect each other’s time. If you agree to talk about something the next day, be there on time and be ready. You may feel differently and want to drop the subject, but they may not. Let them know that you respect them enough to reconvene. [RELATED: Ways to Improve Your Marriage ]

In between these sessions, it is helpful to write down what you’re thinking and feeling. Not only does that help you process the emotions, but it also helps you get clear with yourself about why you’re angry and about what you want from your husband.

Clear, healthy communication is a habit while the opposite can prove much worse. Practice it and you’ll both get better at it over time. That’s the surest way to stop your fights from becoming emotional brawls that don’t really help your marriage.