Couples argue. Whether you’ve been together for only a short time or a considerable amount of time, you and your partner will argue. It’s normal, it’s healthy, and it’s part of being in a relationship. In fact, various research has found that couples who argue effectively have a happier and more productive relationship, as well as a better chance at relationship success, than couples who avoid arguing all together.
But while arguing with your partner is a natural part of the relationship equation, some things don’t warrant an argument, so it’s better to stop it in its tracks. “There are no magic phrases or words that will improve your conversations and prevent arguments,” Celeste Headlee, Conversation Expert for Plenty of Fish, tells Bustle. “Having prepared things to say, often causes a lot of problems, mostly because you’re not really listening, you’re just trying to find a way to say your prepared stuff. What’s more, it’s extraordinarily difficult to deliver a prepared phrase in a way that sounds authentic and not rehearsed, mostly because it is rehearsed.”
So while having a go-to phrase for specific arguments won’t always work, there are certain things you can say, specific wording you an use that can help ease an oncoming argument.
“I’m Starting To Feel Defensive.”
Headlee says it’s important to be aware of your mental state, that way, if you become defensive, you can recognize it and say it out loud.
“If you become defensive, it’s time to admit that and delay the rest of the conversation,” says Headlee. “You can say some version of: ‘I’m starting to feel defensive and that means I won’t be a cooperative partner in this anymore. Give me a little time to calm down and let’s come right back to this.’ When someone begins to feel defensive, their mind thinks they’re being attacked. It pulls up the drawbridge and rolls out the cannons for defense. So defensiveness isn’t a productive state of mind.”
Headlee also says that if your partner is starting to act defensive, it’s best not to point it out and just take the blame for a few minutes until both of you have calmed down.
“I Don’t Understand.”
Asking someone to explain an issue shows that you not only care and are invested, but that you’re hearing them and want them to explain even further, so there’s no misunderstanding. To quote The Little Prince, “Words are the source of misunderstandings,” and it’s absolutely true.
“Here’s one phrase you might want to use more often: ‘Explain what you mean’ or ‘I don’t understand’,” says Headlee. “If you are really listening to the other person, instead of just waiting for them to stop talking so that you can reply, then you will hear things you don’t understand. Ask them to explain. This will demonstrate not only that you’re listening, but that you want to comprehend their concerns.”
“I’m Sorry I Made You Feel…”
If you want to avoid issues, you need to absorb what you’ve done wrong. If you hurt your partner and this has led to the argument, you need to say it, but you also need to say it in a productive way.
“Tell them what you’re hearing,” says Headlee. “In other words, ask them to explain what they’re upset about, then say, ‘It sounds like you feel unappreciated. I’m really sorry I made you feel that way.’ It’s important to avoid saying, ‘I’m sorry you feel like that,’ which puts responsibility on the other person. The message there is, they feel a certain way, and it’s too bad. If you say, ‘I’m sorry I made you feel like that,’ you’re taking responsibility. But don’t say that because I told you to. Say that because you see your partner in distress, you know that you had some hand in making them feel like that, and you’re sorry.”
Unless your partner is psychic, you need to convey to them what you’re feeling with actual words. When you do so, you might be able to avoid an argument, because you’ve come clean about the something that’s likely causing the issue.
“Tell them what you’re really feeling,” says Headlee. “A lot of thoughts go through our minds at all times, and not all of them need to be expressed. Those thoughts are for your benefit, not for the other person. So, take a breath, take stock of how you feel and what’s really bothering you, and then slow down and articulate what’s really at stake. If they never picks up the phone, why does that bother you? Don’t blurt out whatever’s on your mind, be intentional in what you say and how you explain your feelings.”
“I Don’t Want To Get Distracted By Other Stuff.”
As much as an argument might seem like the ideal time to bring up all your other complaints, you’re just going to end up going down a rabbit hole, so don’t take that route, or as Headlee puts it, “Don’t take the bait.”
“We all say things to provoke people when we’re upset,” she says. “Your partner may say things that are designed to escalate conflict. Don’t respond to them. Remember that you do the same thing when you’re mad and instead say something like, ‘I don’t want to get distracted by other stuff. I just want to solve this problem.’ If your goal is a lasting, loving relationship, then scoring points in an argument is not going to help you. It will do the opposite.”
“We Were Both Wrong.”
No matter how pig-headed or stubborn you might be, Headlee says to just forget about trying to win the debate or prove that your partner is wrong and you’re right. No matter who’s to blame, when tempers are flaring, or on the verge of flaring, trying to win will just make everything worse.
“Even if the other person is wrong, you won’t improve your [relationship] by proving it while making them feel small or stupid, says Headlee. “Tell them you’re not as concerned with who’s right, as you are about solving the underlying issue. A study from Baylor University in 2010 showed that arguments between couples are rarely about the dishes or the trash, they’re about power. Often, the other person wants you to relinquish some of your power. So, proving them wrong in an aggressive way is about claiming power, not relinquishing it.”
“Let’s Talk About A Resolution.”
Ultimately, all arguments, whether they get a chance to start or not, seek a resolution. Without reaching one, the problem isn’t fixed and continues to be a burden on the relationship. Because of this, you want to ask your partner what they hope to get out of the situation; where they see this going and how they hope it will end.
“Here’s one last thing you can say in your own words that will help end arguments,” says Headless. “‘I’m sorry we’re arguing about this. What would you like to see happen?’ Ask what they want, what they need, and how you can help. This might be one of the most effective argument enders there is.”
Because arguing with your partner is unavoidable — and that’s how you want it — it’s important to go about it the right way. What that means, more than anything, is carefully choosing your words, so as to do more good than harm.