Skip to content

4 Phrases to Think About When Arguing With Partner, According to Experts

Here is how to diffuse an argument, according to two experts. 

Every couple fights. However, according to experts, some methods of arguing are more effective than others. Terrence Real, a family therapist and the author of Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship, discusses the phenomenon of "unconscious storytelling" in a new story for the New York Times. He explains that it happens when you imagine what your partner is thinking or feeling, and there are ways to avoid it. 

You Can Diffuse an Argument By Goig Through These Statements


Real tells the New York Times if you make assumptions like these, it can make an argument worse. He recommends his clients use a therapeutic tool known as "the feedback wheel." He claims that there are four sentences to the method, which he adapted from Janet Hurley's work. If you find yourself in one of these storytelling spirals, he says to pause and use the following four statements. 

"This Is What I Saw or Heard"

Angry couple.

The first is "This is what I saw or heard." He explains that you should describe what happened in a single sentence. "Share only the facts — ones a camera could record," he said. Think brevity. 

"This Is What I Made Up About It"


The second step is thinking: "This is what I made up about it." Alexandra Solomon, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and the author of Loving Bravely, suggests your personal point of view "acts as a circuit breaker," taking the heat off the other person and forcing you to think about your own emotions. "The stories we tell ourselves are informed by our internal landscape of wounds and tender spots and traumas and patterns," she said. It might also make you realize that your perception is inaccurate. "It's taking responsibility that this is your construction," Real said.

"This Is How I Felt"


Next, "This is how I felt." This phrase encourages taking a moment to focus on and describe your emotions to your partner. For example, saying you are scared, hurt or angry, he explained. "Feelings only," he said, "not thoughts or beliefs." This helps you move from the "reactive parts of your brain," Real said, and into "the wise adult."

"This Is What Would Help Me Feel Better"

Young couple is sitting on a sofa in their apartment looking up and holding their hands to plug their ears

Finally, the last statement is: "This is what would help me feel better." Most people omit this one, Real says. But if you don't make your needs clear, "you can't complain about not getting what you never asked for," he said.

This Shifts Your Approach From Anger to Vulnerability


By doing these things, you are shifting your approach from anger to vulnerability, says Real. You "say what needs to be said," Real added, but it's done with respect. Dr. Solomon added, "The other person responds feeling grateful for their partner's vulnerability rather than guilt-tripped or defensive."

Filed Under