When you were a kid, your parents or teachers might have told you to “just ignore them” if another kid said something mean. But as an adult in a relationship, you absolutely can’t take a “just ignore them” approach with your partner during an argument.

Tuning out is something that we start to do as a defense mechanism when we get overwhelmed. If your partner is yelling at you, or even just talking about something you don’t want to hear, you may begin to let your mind wander. You may even feel your anger rising to a point where you simply refuse to hear anything your partner has to say.

The problem with tuning out like this is that you only exacerbate the existing problem. Imagine how you would feel if you were upset and trying to explain your feelings to your partner, but your partner became unresponsive, turned away, or even told you something like “I don’t have to hear this.” You wouldn’t be able to resolve any existing issues because your partner wouldn’t listen. Frustrating, no?

How to Keep Yourself from Tuning Out

If reading this has made you realize that you’re sometimes guilty of tuning your partner out, it’s time to change your behavior. Here are some things you can do the next time you feel yourself shutting down during an argument.

Don’t paint yourself as a victim. If your partner is criticizing you, it can be difficult to listen to—especially if your partner hasn’t learned how to dialogue in a healthy way. However, resist thinking things like, “I don’t have to put up with this” or “This is coming out of nowhere—I didn’t do anything!” Chances are, something has been bothering your partner for a while, and it’s important that you listen so that you understand their perspective.

Take a break to calm down. If the argument is escalating and you feel yourself getting angry to the point that you can’t think clearly anymore, tell your partner, “I agree we need to talk about this, but can we take a 15 minute break so that I can cool down?”

Take in your partner’s meaning. Let your partner say what they need to say, and avoid interrupting unless you need to ask for clarification. When they’ve finished talking, say, “Let me see if I understand this” and reiterate what your partner has just said. This shows that you were listening and trying to empathize.

Explain your own feelings. You’ll feel less like you were being attacked if you explain your own thoughts and emotional state to your partner after they’re done speaking.

Visit a Houston marriage counselor. If you and your partner are still having trouble communicating and listening to one another, I’d be happy to talk to both of you and help you come up with the tools you need to improve your relationship.