A Simple Technique for Ending Disputes with Your Partner


Have you ever said something that came out wrong, or not the way you had intended?

Has your partner ever said something to you that rubbed you the wrong way?

Do you ever wish you could have a do-over? Rewind. Start again. Get better results all around.

The Stop-Replay Exercise developed by the Couples Institute can help you do just that!

It is an opportunity to help you and your partner improve your communication skills; while at the same time, reducing the distress or discomfort in both of you after a negative interaction.

It is an immediately corrective exercise that allows partners to calm down and shift from reactivity to a positive exchange.

This exercise is really a game-changer if:

  • you and your partner continuously trigger each other. A high level of emotional reactivity in one or both of you means that very little gets resolved. Instead, you keep trying to be heard while both of you are ping-ponging off of each other’s pain points.
  • if you are in a relationship where it is difficult for you to speak up if you don’t like something your partner says or does.

If you’re willing to take some emotional risks and experiment with this suggestion, this exercise alone can radically change your relationship!

You will be: changing the negative dynamic between you and your partner, reducing the amount of hurt you perpetuate in your relationship, and learning that asking for what you want is healthy and leads you to feel more empowered.

This exercise has become one of my favourite Developmental Model interventions in my couples therapy practice!

Partners have consistently reported positive results and even shared that it can be quite fun.

The breakdown of it goes like this:

Partner A – says something hurtful/offensive etc.

Partner B – Ouch/Stop. Can we replay that? What I would really like to hear is “______________.” (This is a short sentence that Partner B will repeat verbatim. Also note that it is not what I want you to say is___________.)


Sally: “Ouch that hurt, what I really wanted to hear was, “Of course, I’ll help you clean up the kitchen.”

  • Repeat 1- Sally – repeats the sentence verbatim.

John: “Of course, I’ll help you clean up the kitchen.”

*Both take a deep breath.*

  • Repeat 2- Sally – repeats the sentence verbatim.

John: “Of course I’ll help you clean up the kitchen.”

*Both take a deep breath.*

  • Repeat 3- Sally – repeats the sentence verbatim.

John: “Of course I’ll help you clean up the kitchen.”

*Both take a deep breath.*

(At the end of this exercise, there can be some laughter at the silliness of fighting over this. Or, there can be further discussion. You will know in the moment.)

Important caveats that lead to success in this exercise:

John is not beholden to do what Sally asks him to say – John just needs to say it and understand why Sally would have like to hear this. For example, if Sally wants him to say, “I will buy you a new car.” John does not need to buy a new car. However, in my experience, what one partner wants to hear, is often what the other partner had meant to say initially, or is something they truly feel deep down.

The triple repetition is important because it allows both partners’ nervous systems to settle.

The first iteration can be difficult; the second iteration the clients get settled into it; and the third is often either quite deep and meaningful, or brings both parties to smiles or giggles.

One of the brilliant effects of this exercise is that it teaches couples how their words impact their partner without a direct confrontation.

Over time, couples learn to express themselves differently so that this exercise does not need to be used very often.

It pushes so many capacities in each partner that are necessary for an emotionally healthy relationship. For example: Sally learns to connect with what she wants and to take the risk to say it out loud. She also learns to indirectly ask John to help her calm down by feeding her a line that will soothe her. On the other hand, John learns to give to Sally comfort, even if he disagrees with what she is asking of him. He follows her lead and helps her to calm down because he realizes it will serve him too if they learn to interrupt their negative patterns of either fighting or avoiding conflict. Note- It’s important that both partners initiate this exercise as there are different ways in which growth occurs on each side.

Give it a go and see what you think – you will likely be pleasantly surprised!

If you or someone you know could benefit from couples counselling therapy, feel free to reach out to us. The skills you acquire will benefit you in all your relationships.

A Simple Technique for Ending Disputes with Your Partner, Copyright 2023, Christie Behrisch Kumar©

Leave a comment