1. “WHATEVER, IT’S FINE.”
When you sense an argument brewing, your instinct may be to avoid conflict by bowing out early.
“It can be really scary when you anticipate that somebody is going to get upset,” says Monica O’Neal, Psy.D., a Harvard clinical psychologist and relationship expert. But tackling problems together is part of being in a solid relationship.
“Real intimacy is not just about feeling all warm and cozy and kumbaya,” O’Neal adds. “It’s also about the ability to feel like somebody’s safe enough to express anger with. That is actually a really healthy and good thing.”
2. “THAT’S RIDICULOUS!”
This sends the message that your partner’s perspective isn’t valid.
“People will always get in trouble when they’re aiming for ‘I’m right, you’re wrong,’” says Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a relationship expert, author, and clinical psychologist in Denver.
Instead, she says, acknowledge something your partner has said that you do agree with; then add your own perspective by saying, “…and here’s another way to look at it.”
That keeps both opinions on the table, so you’re more likely to come up with a solution that works for both of you.
3. “OH, THAT’S JUST GREAT.”
Check your sarcasm during a disagreement.
“It’s not effective at all. All it does is create more distrust,” O’Neal says. “It’s a very passive-aggressive way of making a point, and it doesn’t clearly get to the issue.”
Explain your point of view honestly to keep the lines of communication open.
4. “YOU NEVER…”
Kicking off a complaint with “you always” or “you never” puts the other person on the defensive, and it’s rarely accurate.
Heitler suggests swapping these accusatory phrases with the more personal, “My concern is…”
So instead of grumbling that your partner is always late, try “My concern is that our friends will think we’re rude.”
5. “CALM DOWN!”
Needless to say, this blithe phrase usually has the exact opposite effect.
“What you’re essentially saying is, ‘I can’t tolerate you feeling upset,’” O’Neal says.
It’s important that your partner feels safe expressing her emotions—even the negative ones. So if you really aren’t sure why she’s so worked up, ask (sincerely!) what she’s angriest about.
By definition, this overrides whatever your partner just said.
“‘But’ deletes whatever came before it, like the backspace key on your keyboard,” Heitler says. “And people don’t like having what they say deleted or dismissed or demeaned.”
Preface your response with “and” or “at the same time” to show you respect your partner’s opinion, even if it differs from yours.
7. “LET’S JUST DROP IT.”
Fighting is stressful, and it’s totally understandable if one of you needs a breather. But when tempers are flaring, you can’t simply shut down the discussion.
Instead, O’Neal says, let her know you need a temporary time-out: “You need to be able to say, ‘I need the opportunity to step back and process it a little bit. I promise I’ll get back to it. I promise I’m not leaving in a huff.’”
8. “YOU’RE SUCH A #$%*&!”
Even when your partner is pushing every button you have, resist the urge to prey on her insecurities.
“Name-calling is totally out of bounds,” Heitler says. “It’s only about injuring the other; it’s not about problem solving.”
Focus on finding a solution, not on seeing how effectively you can hurt each other’s feelings.
9. “IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS HARD.”
If it’s meant to be, it’ll be effortless, right? Maybe in the movies, but real-life relationships take work.
If you’ve hit a rough patch, consider talking to a marriage counselor or family therapist. It’s not a last resort for a doomed relationship—it’s a way for committed couples to learn to communicate more effectively.
“There’s a skill set that enables people to have productive discussions,” Heitler says. “Marriage is a professional level of partnership, and people need professional-level skills.”
10. “MAYBE I SHOULD JUST LEAVE.”
Hinting at a breakup can chip away at trust, especially if you bring up The End every time you’re angry.
“Don’t threaten abandonment. That’s probably one of the most toxic things you can do,” O’Neal says.
Instead of framing every fight as a potential deal-breaker, recognize that open communication—disagreements included!—can actually strengthen your bond in the long run.
“The point of an argument is to come out of it feeling like you’ve been heard,” O’Neal says. “Even if you don’t come to an agreement, at least you should come out of it with a better understanding.”