Anyone in a relationship will wholeheartedly agree that conflict is not only inevitable, but also completely healthy. Learning how to navigate a disagreement is so important when done in a productive and positive way. The only time things can go south with conflict is when you sail into destructive territory, which often includes saying things you should never say to a partner in an argument and will probably regret at some point.
“I am always alarmed when I speak to couples who state they ‘never fight,’” says Dr. Karen Stewart, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist. “I think having disagreements, conflict, or fights is healthy in relationships. As adults, we are never going to completely agree with everything our partners say, so being able to state your opinion or desire is extremely important in relationships. When conflict becomes unhealthy is when the couple is bickering, arguing, and conflicting more than they are not or if the same topic is constant and never resolved.”
Also, so often, said healthy bickering can take a turn when it gets mean or “threatening,” says Stephanie Macadaan, couples counselor and creator of The Happy Couple Plan. “Basically in order to have a healthy relationship you have to feel emotionally safe and not worry that the other person will get angry, reject, and/or abandon,” she explains. “When conflict or a relationship feels threatening, things change. This is the point where it crosses the line and destructive language is used.”
And while apologizing for your words is always a good thing, how about first trying to replace common negative phrases with those that will produce a more positive result? Instead of going the accusing route, Macadaasn suggests using language that expresses your need to understand your partner. “Discuss your feelings and try being curious about how the other person feels,” she explains. “It keeps you open and wanting to learn more about how you both got to this misunderstanding or argument. You keep an open stance when you’re curious.”
OK, now you have some proactive solutions, here are some of the problems to avoid. Ahead, see the unhealthy phrases and words Dr. Stewart and Macaddan hear the most with clients. Take notes, as these simple words can often do a lot of damage.
“I’m Done,” “I’m Leaving,” or “I Can’t Do This Anymore”
If, in your anger, you are one to throw in empty threats of leaving your partner, Dr. Stewart recommends thinking before you speak next time. “If [these] are your go-to statements in a fight one day your partner might take you seriously and your relationship will end,” she explains.
Just like the above statements, presenting ultimatums may not deliver the positive result you’re hoping for in an argument. “Do not present an ultimatum until you are truly ready to act on it,” says Dr. Stewart. “This style of fighting is unproductive.”
This one seems like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many couples forget how powerful their words can be. “Insults are also never acceptable because the receiver will not forget them, regardless if you didn’t mean it or apologize profusely,” says Dr. Stewart.
This one might surprise you. Macadaan explains that this small and seemingly harmless word actually carries a lot of weight and meaning behind it. “It’s my least favorite word,” says the therapist. “‘You should know this,’ ‘you should do this’ — it puts people on the defensive much more than we realize. It’s like nails on a chalkboard for me because it just rolls off the tongue, translating to ‘you’re supposed to be all-knowing.’ It doesn’t contain a lot of compassion.”
“Always” & “Never”
Using extreme language and verbiage is another avenue you should avoid taking in an argument according to Macadaan. “Using ‘always’ or ‘never’ in an accusatory way puts a person in a box where they are powerless,” she explains.