Every couple argues, but these words will turn a spat into an all-out-war. Here, the phrases to avoid, and what to do if one passes your lips because hey, it happens. By Anna Davies, REDBOOK.
"I want a divorce"
In the heat of the moment, it's easy to say things you don't mean, but every expert we spoke with agreed that this statement can't easily be taken back-no matter how many times you apologize or swear you didn't mean it. "Statements like 'I'm done with this' or 'I'm leaving' breed insecurity," explains Judi Cinéas, a marriage and family therapist based in Palm Beach, FL. "I always tell clients that this should only be said if you're ready to sign the papers." So what happens if it slips? Apologize and explain that it will never happen again, but know it might be awhile before your partner fully trusts you. And it also may be time for you to do some soul-searching. If you truly blurted it out in a fit of rage, it could be helpful to work through your anger with a professional. But if you said it because it's on your mind, that's indicative of much deeper issues than the argument du jour.
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"I'm not mad"
So why are you rolling your eyes, slamming doors, and grunting one-word responses to his questions? Because you don't want to be mad, which isn't quite the same thing as not being mad. "Shutting down and trying to ignore our emotions is an incredibly common reaction to conflict," says Lisa Bahar, a marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, CA. "We want to be accepted and not have people upset with us." Not only that, but sometimes it's hard to know why you're so annoyed-or you might feel silly explaining why his failure to text that he's running late created this reaction, especially if you haven't cared in the past. If you find yourself tongue-tied when your temper flares, it's fine to take a break and talk when you've cooled down-even if it's just to let him know how confused you feel.
"You're just like your father"
Chances are, you're not saying this because they both do magic tricks or make amazing pancakes-you're saying it to hurt him, and you know it. But this is a low blow for a few reasons. First, by comparing him to his dad, you're expressing that you're no longer seeing him for him. "Everyone wants to be seen as an individual," reminds Cinéas. Second, he likely has tried hard to avoid whatever trait you're bringing up, which will immediately put him on the defensive and ratchet up the emotional stakes in an argument.
"You're such a jerk/coward/expletive of choice"
Weirdly, name-calling triggers the same vulnerabilities as negatively comparing him with someone else-you're telling him that you no longer see him as an individual, says Amy Johnson, Ph.D., a psychologist and life coach in Detroit. "Not only that, but name-calling is a definite sign that your emotions are coloring the situation to the point where nothing constructive will occur. Fighting while you're in that state is like fighting while you're drunk, or on an hour of sleep-it won't make anything better." Instead, give yourself time to calm down by telling your guy you're going to grab coffee and will be back in an hour. And come home when you say you will-if you don't, they'll be more anger, warns Cinéas.
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"Look, now the baby is upset, too"
Once the crying starts, it looks like you've got the guilt card on lock-but experts warn that it's a dirty hand to play, even if it does make you seem like the victor in the spat. "One person cannot have an argument," reminds Cinéas. If the baby's wailing, it's a sign both of you are getting riled up. Call a truce, calm down the baby-and yourself-and then begin talking through things calmly. Also, if your kids are older, don't claim you're not fighting if it's clear that you are. Instead, let them know you both lost your tempers, but that you still love each other, and you will work it out, because you always do in the end.
"You did the same thing last time"
Little disagreements become big ones when we bring them up over and over again, reminds Cinéas. "When you've forgiven someone for something, that means that you can't use it as ammunition in a current disagreement." If you find you're continually circling around the same tiny arguments, it could be a sign you should do something different. If he always forgets to wipe down the counters, he's not doing it because he wants a fight-he may not see the mess you do. The easiest option: Take over counter duty and trade him a chore he won't skip.
"You're always late"
Stewing because he arrived nearly half an hour past the time you were supposed to meet for dinner, again? Well, blurting this out makes it even more likely this will happen the next time, says Bahar. Instead of accusing him-or making it sound like he'll never change-let him know why it's important to you that he be on time, like that you don't want to spend part of your date night in conversation with the waiter. Then, try to enjoy the evening. Later, when neither of you is agitated, you can work together to figure out how to avoid lateness being an issue in the future (i.e. texting him at the moment you need him to leave rather than expecting he'll arrive at the time you suggest).
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"Why are you mad?"
He grunts one-word answers when you ask how his day was, and from the angry way he searches for a snack, it seems like he's ready to have a serious blowout with the fridge. But the more you push, the more likely you'll find yourself in a fight that wasn't there to begin with. "People lash out at those they're closest to, and sometimes their moods have nothing to do with our behavior," Cinéas says. That's not to say you should just let him take out his bad mood on you-and if he's often like this, you and he need to have a serious talk about how he handles his anger-but if he's in the occasional bad mood when he gets home from work, or after his team loses a big game, it's fine to give him a wide berth. If he seems fine a few hours later, drop the subject-once he's over it, there's no reason you should hang on.
"You need to talk to me right now"
In all likelihood, you're texting or e-mailing this instead of speaking it. But if you're both in different spots and you feel like a fight is brewing, the best thing you can do is hold your thoughts-at least until you can talk face-to-face. Why? Well, for one, neither of you has a sense of what else is competing for the other's attention-like, say, his sister or your boss-and because of that, you can majorly misread each other's intentions. For example, you may think a half-hour without a response means he's ignoring you, but he could actually just be in a meeting. "Agreeing not to fight over email or text is best because then you can work out what you want to say when you get face-to-face, at which point you should both have calmed down a bit," says Dr. Johnson.
"This is all your fault
"He was the one who said it was fine to get to the airport an hour before takeoff. You wanted to give yourselves two hours, just in case. Now you've both missed your flight. You're furious, but it's not like he's thrilled either. So instead of placing the blame on him, figure out first what you can do to solve the problem, then explain how his behavior made you feel. Saying something like, "I felt like you weren't listening to me, and it was easier to go along with your idea, but I wish I'd spoken up," shows you accept your responsibility in the situation, and also carves a path for a constructive conversation about how to avoid these issues in the future.