When you’re angry, it can feel like someone else is driving the car and you’re just a passenger. While the primitive emotion can certainly be helpful in some situations, one of the downsides of the downsides is that it limits your more rational side.
“Anger can give you a rush of energy and emotions,” says Kimberly Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker. “The problem is that when angry we do not have full access to the part of our brain that problem solves and foresees consequences. Essentially we act out with the least resources to resolve the conflict.”
This is one of many reasons it’s so crucial to understand and find productive ways of managing your anger. It’s also why it’s important to watch your words when you’re fighting with your spouse. Anger makes it easy for hurtful statements to slip through.
It helps to remind yourself of what to not say. So, we spoke to a group of therapists and psychologists who offered nine examples of phrases to avoid. Many of the suggestions on this list are obvious. You’ll probably nod your head when reading them because it’s easy to see why they’re off-limits. Still, it’s good to re-familiarize yourself with them because the more you know, the more conscious you are about watching your language.
1. “You Always…” or “You Never…”
During a heated argument, it’s all-to-easy to make sweeping generalizations. “You always do this…” or “You never do that…” Such phrases are an exaggeration and only serve to ratchet up the disagreement. The words, notes Dr. Rachel Hoffman a licensed clinical social worker and Chief Therapy Officer at Real, are unhelpful, distracting from the core emotions related to the issue at hand. Instead, your focus should be on language specific to the disagreement. And, as always, use “I” statements when offering your side of things.
2. “You’re So Selfish…” Or Any Such Accusatory Language
Anger unsheathes our defensive emotions, as well as the desire to strike out and hurt the person you’re arguing with. This can cause you to go on the attack, pulling out such accusations as “You’re so selfish,” or “You’re so manipulative.” Such critical talk is not only hurtful, but it will distract your partner from the topic at hand and cause them to zero in on the hurtful language. This in turn throws off the entire argument. “Accusatory language puts people on the defensive and perpetuates a cycle of toxic fighting,” says Dr. Hoffman. “It doesn’t help you get your point across.”
3. Invalidating Statements
Any language that make your partner think you have no interest in their perspective should be avoided. This includes phrases like “Who cares?” or “So what?”. They make your partner feel invalidated and unheard. No, you don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. But it’s important to make them feel heard.
As important? When your partner is trying to express something that’s upset them, don’t shift the conversation into whatever is going on in your world. Even if you’re doing it as a way of relating to your partner’s struggle, it can feel just as invalidating, as though you’re making the discussion solely about you.
“We want to avoid anything that is going to feel like competition and take away from our partner,” says Michele Goldman, a psychologist with Hope for Depression Research Foundation. “Your partner’s anger needs and deserves space. If we introduce something that is a personal issue, it takes away space for their emotions and communicates that you matter more.”
4. Any Words That Intentionally Push Their Buttons
Everyone has triggers, subjects, words, or phrases that hurt them, irritate them, or produce a volatile reaction. Chances are you know your partner’s quite well. Needless to say, purposely referencing them is petty and unproductive, only serving to lengthen the argument and cause it to branch off into other, less positive directions. “Even if your partner is prompting an argument because they are upset,” says Goldman, “do your best to avoid these triggers so as to not overwhelm and flood them with more emotion.”
5. Any Past Resentments You’ve Been Sitting On
In all likelihood, there’s something in your relationship that’s unresolved. Join the club. In the heat of an argument, you may be compelled to reference one or the other. This is, frankly, a terrible impulse. Dredging up past comments, fights, or resentments will only cause the argument to spiral out of control and, per Goldman, lead to one or both of you shutting down.
6. “You’re So Lazy” Or Any Such Attacks on Their Character
During a heated argument, no one’s good qualities are on display. But that doesn’t mean that you need to target them especially when those negative qualities are not related to the issues the two of you are dealing with. Saying things like, “You’re just lazy,” or “Maybe if you took better care of yourself, you wouldn’t feel this way,” is not constructive and will just make the current argument worse. “If your partner is already angry, we want to avoid anything that might offend them or be perceived as an attack on their character,” says Goldman. “Any negative attribute or negative quality, even if it is one that is evident in their current mood, might prompt feelings of being attacked and unsupported.”
7. “You’re Such a…”
Name-calling is, at best, childish and, at worst, wounding. Calling your partner a bitch or a jerk or whatever mean-spirited term springs to mind in the heat of the moment adds nothing to the conversation. It can, however, subtract a great deal from the relationship. “No name-calling. Ever,” says Lesley Koeppel, a licensed clinical social worker in New York. “You cannot take these words back so just don’t say them. If you do, those hurts can linger and don’t heal as easily.”
8. References to Score Keeping
A relationship is a partnership, and no one person’s achievements or shortcomings should be counted up against the other’s in the heat of the moment. Even if you feel you’ve done more for your partner, or that they have somehow done less for you, keep it out of the discussion. If you love them, you shouldn’t feel the need to keep score. “There are times where your partner may need more of you and vice versa,” says Koeppel. “No need to keep a running tally.”
9. “Well, My Mother/Friend/Coworker Agrees with Me…”
During a fight it’s never a good idea to name other people who might agree with your side of the argument. Your partner is already struggling with the feelings of anger that you’re having. It can be even more painful for them to hear that you’ve not only been talking to others about these conversations intimately but also talking negatively about them. There’s zero need to bring others into the heat of an argument, especially when you’re angry.
Anger gets the best of us all sometimes. But the last thing you want to do is say something you can’t take back. If you find yourself too angry to have a constructive dialogue with your partner, take the time to separate and gather yourself. Call a time out or simply tell them that you feel yourself slipping and need 15 minutes or so to cool down. Then, be sure to return to the conversation when that time is up.
More generally, take time to understand on reflect on moments where anger took over so that you find ways to stay in control. Also important is to incorporate anger management techniques into your routine. If you do find that your anger is a consistent issue, consider seeing a therapist to work through it.
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