Two words to use when you argue

Experts disagree on whether or not arguing is healthy in a relationship. I think it depends on a few things:

  • The topics you argue about. Fights about religion and values are never a good sign, for example.
  • Whether you maintain respect for your partner. Once contempt creeps into your relationship, that’s usually a sign it’s over. In the rare case that it’s salvageable, both of you will have to act quickly to get to the bottom of it and sort it out.
  • Whether you’re just repeating the same old fights. When we fight over the same things it means someone isn’t getting heard and one or both of you lack healthy communication skills.

How do I know all this? I lived through it. Therapy, Psychology Today and psych books and Talks educated me.

What I learned is that many people, maybe most of us if I remember correctly, never learned how to express our wants, hurts and other emotions growing up so we do what’s called dumping when we argue.

Another unhealthy communication habit we get into is trying to win every fight. Matt Hussey has a solution for this:

Once you decide you’d rather win in the relationship over winning pointless arguments, there are, he tells us, two words that work like a charm to defuse most pointless arguments.

Those two words are: “I Understand.

Watch as Hussey explains the why and how to use these deescalating words.

The Coach Says:

I’m sure I’ve been guilty of doing this, but one of the worst habits we can display in relationships is not giving our partners the courtesy we give to co-workers and strangers. We may let certain things slide with co-workers but don’t our spouses similar courtesy. I know in my case it was because I feared that if I didn’t check the behavior, that person might think it’s okay to repeat it. 

Studying emotional intelligence, I’ve learned we have to weigh situations using the right scale for that situation. 

Matt’s two-word advise is brilliant, and to help you buy into it, consider other healthy relationship pointers we all know but too quickly forget in the heat of the moment:

Be the bigger/smarter one. When emotions are high, one of you has to show up for the relationship

Listen. It’s such a gift to feel heard. Remind yourself that we don’t always hear things from the other person’s perspective, we often hear things from our own. Listening lets us hear the other person out and hopefully, we learn something. Doing this we get to practice the essence of relationships; we get to relate. Having felt heard, the other person may naturally cool down.

Pick your battles. It’s such a gift to be let off the hook for dumb things sometimes. If every once in a while an otherwise loving partner makes a dumb comment or is being testy with you, it’s such a gift to let it go. 

Seek first to understand then seek to be understood. This is Habit #5 from Dr. Stephen Covey’s classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” When you’re seeking to understand, you don’t just listen, you follow up with open-handed questions aimed at understanding why the other person could be reacting the way they are.

From there, you may understand why you read the situation or heard their words the way that you did. Maybe you can learn from the experience, even learn something about yourself. Then (later when everyone has cooled off), you can share why you reacted the way you did and maybe set some ground rules for moving forward…

I get that you were tired and you thought I was being a nag, but my mother is off limits.” OR “It sounded like you were undermining my contributions to…”

Here’s to healthy relationships because the alternative is a real downer and energy-drainer.


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