What are the best phrases to use in an argument with your partner?

spinsight Couples Therapy, Dr. Pam Wright, General Psychology ,
Marriage Counseling Series at The Life Change Group, written by Dr. Pam Wright, mental health expert. What are the best phrases to use during an argument with your partner

How to Argue with Your Partner

Couples therapy often involves partners with differing viewpoints. Sometimes these points of view can be relatively minor and other times they are grand canyon sized - massive differences. Many times in session my couples argue. If you're married, you argue. It's as certain as the waves crashing into the shore. I've also found that there is a right way to argue with your special someone and a wrong way. But I ran across this article from CNBC.com recently that posed an interesting question - what are the best phrases to use in an argument with your partner? The story put forth six concepts that would help arguments reach better and ultimately more successful endings, where you understand yourself and your partner a little more.

In the spirit of the article, I agree with some of these, but not so much with others. So let's take a look at what phrases you need to use in your next argument.

#1: "I Feel" Phrases

When you want to avoid blaming the other person and talk about how emotions are affecting you, use phrases that convey a sense "I'm feeling". These can include things like "it hurts me when you..." or "I feel attacked, can you rephrase that" or "that felt unfair". The idea is that you are expressing your emotions and impact the other person's words are having on you.

Famed personal coach to the stars, Tony Robbins says "studies have shown that I-statements reduce hostility and defensiveness and that you-statements can provoke anger. It conveys that even though your partner is not acting or speaking in the way you’d prefer, you are not blaming him or her for how you feel. When using I-statements, you take responsibility for the part you played in the disagreement and display the openness for deep listening and resolution." I have seen this work so effectively in my couples therapy sessions. Try these types of phrases and watch the reaction - with the right tone, it has the power to really defuse a tense situation quickly.

#2: "I Need to Calm Down" Phrases

This is another great way to turn down the temperature of a heated argument. The strategy should be to put space between the words and allow for thoughts to catch up and for both parties to listen and process. These types of phrases could include things like "I need for you to please listen" or "let me rephrase that?" or "can I have a hug?". Couples therapy is all about giving both partners a safe and equal space to understand and be understood, but to do that there needs to be a bit of a lull in the back-and-forth. Using phrases that attempt to calm yourself and your partner can aid in creating that space, or in the case of the request for a hug...closing that physical space with compassion.

#3: "I'm Sorry"

You knew that this one was going to be in the list of phrases to use to have a better argument. The old "I'm sorry" line can work as a good open or a good close. "I'm sorry, I misunderstood you" or "I see your point now, I'm sorry". The point is that you are owning up to a part of the misalignment, unrealistic expectation or whatever the issue. It is not a sign of weakness or concession. Quite the opposite. The power of "sorry" is incredible really. Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author, puts it this way, "Apologizing also helps us to realize how much impact we can have on another person. There is weight to our actions. If we have the power to hurt, we also have the power to take a step toward healing. And, when we apologize first, we open the door for the other person to meet us in that place of open communication. We lessen the shame for them. We acknowledge together that being on good, or at least neutral, terms is more important than winning." The power of a well-timed and heartfelt apology is worth it's weight in gold.

#4: "Stop Action"

In principle, I see why this one is on the list, but it has a significant downside. Stop action phrases as described in the CNBC.com article include things like "please let's stop for a while", "I might be wrong here" or "let's start all over again". I like the fact that we're incorporating some of the I feel and apologetic terminology in these. Claiming a need to take a break, creating mental and physical space is also super helpful to calm the situation. Those are all great reasons to use these types of phrases. However, in my couples therapy work, the idea of saying "let's start all over again" could come off as being very counter-productive. It might indicate you're disregarding the other person's time and investment in the discussion and relationship. You want to be careful to always validate your partner even though you might 100% disagree with the point of view.

#5: "Getting to Yes"

This is another one where I kind of want to agree with the overall sentiment, but there are parts of me that after having counseled couples for so long, I just shake my head. It's one of the key tenets in couples therapy - arguments are not always about getting to a yes. Still the phrases cited were things like "you're starting to convince me", "let's compromise here" and "what are your concerns?" I love the last example here because it shows the partner is not only listening, but he or she is listening with an intent to understand. "What are your concerns...tell me more...help me understand your point of view that I can better relate to you as my partner". That is an amazing mindset to have just in life, much less in the middle of an argument.

The compromise example is where I don't agree wholeheartedly. The adage is that marriage is about compromise, but in those situations both partners are losing. "I'll lose in a little as long as you also lose a little." Then you both lose. Why not aim for a situation where you both win? Trust me...it's much harder, but it's so worth it too. It gets back to listening with an intent to understand and being honest and open which may not always lead to an immediate yes on both sides. Psychology Today has a great article about getting to win-win and further explaining my point.

#6: "I appreciate"

Last but not least, this is a great phrase to use in your next argument with your partner. This is table stakes in all of my couples therapy work because it's about using words that mend the situation, build up the other person and strengthen the bond through affirmations. These phrases include "I love you" (who doesn't love to hear that one), "one thing I admire about you is..." and "that's fair, I see your point". All of these are fantastic examples of positive and uplifting thoughts that will help generate trust and an "in it together" mentality. It also proves that the relationship is bigger than the disagreement, and that the other person is more important than winning the argument.

As the author's say in their closing paragraph "what determines the success or failure of a relationship is how you each respond to the repair". Well said!

Final Thoughts from Dr. Pam Wright

I really like using the “I feel___” statements in all types of communication. With family, friends, couples, etc.  Remember feelings are never wrong for that person, so we need to create a sense of understanding and explain how we feel as well.  Additionally, here’s a good technique I use with couples and families who never feel heard or can’t get their message across without being interrupted. Grab a pen, whoever is holding the pen gets to talk and then have the listener paraphrase back what the speaker said. Then the next person gets the pen. The only rule is that only the one with the pen can talk. Sounds a bit strange, but it can definitely be effective!


Dr. Pam Wright is a licensed psychologist and mental health expert. She is the founder and owner of The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, Ga.Dr. Pam Wright is a licensed psychologist and a mental health expert. She is the Founder and Director of The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, Ga. Her psychology practice is a team of therapists, counselors and psychologists offering a wide range of psychological testing and individual, couples and family counseling. Dr. Wright is also a co-host of the "Middle Age(ish)" podcast and has appeared on NBC in Atlanta.