Relationship expert reveals best ways to tackle conflict in long-term relationships

When you're in the middle of an argument with your partner, it's easy to let emotions spill over and get the better of you. While you might have begun fighting about doing the dishes, soon much deeper issues can come to the fore.

But Kiwi relationship expert Dr Nikki Goldstein says it's not the topic of the argument that matters so much - it's how we're arguing. 

Dr Goldstein joined the AM Show on Wednesday to discuss resolving conflict in long-term relationships and says the key is to look at the patterns emerging in arguments. 

"Especially if you're in a long-term relationship, it might not be what you're arguing about but maybe more someone's reaction," she explained. 

"So if someone says you're really overreacting or they start shutting down when you get emotional, it's really good to address those patterns. 

"Because if you address those patterns then you can discuss things in a more healthy way - it's also really good to explore each other's triggers." 

Dr Goldstein added that the smallest changes in tone or certain repeated key phrases can bring up past issues. 

"When you're not in an argument take the opportunity to discuss it," she recommended. 

"Say things like: 'When you say that it really triggers me and I get really emotional'," she said. 

"[And] look under the surface. Often it's those little arguments that happen like who's doing what around the house, who's not taking out the rubbish, who's not doing what with the kids when really underneath that there's more to it

"Is someone not feeling validated in a relationship? Is someone feeling like their partner isn't helping out enough? You stew on that, then something happens and you're off. 

"So it's a really a combination of things that you need to address when you're not having an argument, so when you do, you can have it in a natural way."

When AM Show host Amanda Gillies admitted she often goes quiet in arguments and says nothing, Dr Goldstein said she's "not a fan of the silent treatment". 

"If you do need a break and you don't know what to say, then that's ok too. Say to your partner: 'I'm not really sure how to respond to that, can you give me a few minutes, give me some time to be by myself and digest and then come back to you?'."