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17 Women Reveal the Worst Things You Can Say During an Argument

Plus their own tips on how to diffuse a tense situation.

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In a relationship?

Things can and will get heated (not in a good way).

And those fragile moments are when you are liable to say something very, very wrong.

To help you take the utmost precaution, we asked 17 women — lawyers, negotiators, therapists and everyday professionals — about the right and the wrong things to say when tempers flare.

Pro tip: Never say “relax.” Ever.

Joanna, 36
Marketing Coordinator

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? I tend to leave the house and go shopping. Not only am I giving him time to chill out, I’m giving myself retail therapy. Give it enough time to where you can have a calm conversation about the problem when you get back.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Do not punch things! This includes walls, cars, doors, yourself or your partner. I’ve done all of these things in past relationships and it never turned out good.

Christine, 69
Retired

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? What I have learned is to simply shut up. I have learned that arguing is counterproductive, and while shutting up is VERY difficult for me, it serves the best purpose. Most all arguments go away on their own, after time, and practically none are worth spending much energy on. One friend said she says, “Perhaps you may be right,” and drops it and walks away. Another friend said never argue in the presence of alcohol.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? The one thing never to say is “I don’t know why you even bother to argue with me when you know I am always right.” I just think that in my head, because, like most women, I usually AM right.

Alexis, 26
Business development

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Express your feelings — especially if the anger is coming from a place of hurt, an argument can turn into a productive conversation when one person is courageous enough to say, “I’m hurting.”
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Name-calling — it’s a slippery slope that’s hard to climb up from. It’s different from being critical of how someone is behaving or how they’re making you feel; and your partner may have a hard time un-hearing what you called them even after you apologize.

Grace, 25
Microbiologist/PhD student

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Pick a partner who stays calm during disagreements, LOL. But beyond that, I focus really hard on keeping my voice and tone level, and using “I feel” and “I think” statements instead of accusatory “You did” and “You are” statements.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Never attack your partner with low blows about their insecurities and sensitivities. They trust you with those things, so to use them in an argument to wound them is a real quick way to permanently destroy trust and affection in your relationship.

Kelsey, 26
Marketer

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? My number-one way to diffuse any situation is to move away from accusatory language and consciously use “I feel” language. Beyond that, it really depends on the situation. Sometimes I just need to give him 15 minutes of space until we both calm down, but other times, it’s best to talk it out and resolve the problem quickly. In either case, it always feels right to end a tough discussion by telling him how important he is to me.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? “Calm down.”

Melissa, 24
Attorney

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? The select few times that my husband gets truly “heated” in an argument, I have found that reminding him I’m on his team typically diffuses tension between us. Many times our most heated conversations become that way because we forget that it’s us against the problem, not his solution vs. my solution. So when I can tell he’s getting frustrated, I encourage us to take a step back and focus on our focal point: what’s best for our team.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Everyone has their own triggers. When fighting with my husband, he knows that opting to leave me alone when I’m upset only makes me more upset. It sends the message that he doesn’t care about my feelings and that I’m alone in this argument. Because of this, he has adopted his key phrase: “I want to take a timeout on this conversation.” It lets me know that he’s not ignoring me, that we’ll return to this when we’re both ready, and that I’m not abandoned on this issue.

Jackie, 53
Writer

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? My suggestion is to have a pre-arranged Diffusion Word. This has to be a separate conversation when there are no unresolved issues, but the idea is for both parties to agree on a Diffusion Word — it can be anything as long as when said, it is easily recognized as being helpful and not inciting. (I wouldn’t suggest “Chill Out” to be used, as that may have the opposite, undesired effect.) During the argument, whenever either person recognizes the situation is getting out of hand, they use the word and have a break in the action. This may mean going into separate rooms, leaving for a while or just agreeing to change the subject for a specified period of time.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? The actual words that you should never utter probably varies, but forbidden topics are pretty universal. Never compare your partner to one of your exes. Never say “I told you so.” Never bring an old (resolved) issue into a new discussion. Never threaten to leave the relationship. Never resort to name-calling or emotional abusive words.

Karen, 57
Author, relationship expert

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Tell your partner something that you appreciate about them, so they don’t feel like you’re only on the attack. And hold your partner’s hands while talking; subconsciously, they will feel loved, and thereby it will help them feel safely understood. Basically, it’s harder to be mad at someone when they are showing you proof of their love for you.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument?Researcher John Gottman says he can predict 96% of the time how a conversation will end based on its first three minutes. Do not start out blaming or calling your partner bad names. Your partner will spend more time defending himself than attending to your needs and feelings. And try not to generalize and say, “You always do this. You always say that.” Generalizations will only escalate your partner’s emotional state because they’re more vague to discuss, and less believable.

Kandee Lewis
Executive director, Positive Results Corporation

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? May I flip this around? What many women do to “get a partner to chill out in a heated argument” is not healthy. For example: Saying sorry for everything. Always apologizing gives our partners an opportunity to misallocate responsibility. This is a sign of emotional/mental and verbal abuseInstead of fleeing when the conversation becomes emotionally abusive (as would be advisable), they might ask themselves “What can I do better?”, “What did I do wrong?” or “How can I make him/her love me (more or again)?” If that is the inner dialogue, now may be a good time to leave.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Say “It’s all your fault.” This abusive strategy tries to place blame and shame on one person. Eventually the person who is being blamed becomes responsible for everything, and the abuser is no longer accountable or responsible for their actions. This makes the victim question everything they do. Eventually they lose perspective on their value in the relationship, and as a person. Thus their self esteem becomes a distant memory.

Otto, 35
Stunt driver

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Bring up the past. Arguing is healthy and it’s going to happen. But have the argument in front of you, not the argument you had three years ago. If something was put to bed, leave it there in the past and move on. Also don’t ever say some cold sh*t and then storm out without your keys. It’s not just a low move — but it’s super hard to get them to let you back in … or so I hear.

Jacqui Olliver, 47
Relationship consultant, author

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Stop feeding the discourse with your own resistance. Communication is 55% body language, 35% tonality and only 10% words. When you are in an emotionally resistant state, you become tense and rigid and a threatening tone enters into your voice. This is what your partner reacts to. Look them in the eye and switch your attention to observe the internal physical discomfort related to the emotional response. This will prevent your mind from mentally over-analyzing and reacting to what your partner is saying.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Many arguments escalate out of control because either or both partners start blaming the other. Blame is one thing you should never do during a heated argument. It doesn’t resolve anything and will frequently trigger the other person into a violent verbal or physical reaction as they react to feeling accused. Blame is also a clear indicator that you are not taking responsibility for your own contribution to the situation.

Mel, 31
Graphic designer

What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? If something serious comes up, the worst is to be ignored. Don’t f*cking ignore me when I’m trying to have a hard but necessary conversation.

Lesli Doares
Couples consultant, radio host, author

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? I’ve been married for 32 years. One thing I do, and recommend to my clients, is to take a deep breath and get myself under control. As part of that, I recommend trying to understand what the partner’s real position is instead of trying to put forth one’s own. Being curious or confused is a great way to go: “tell me more about …”; “I got lost here.” Listening is always a good way to get someone to chill.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Use the word “you.” As in, “Why did you…”, “You always/never”, “You said/meant.” That is a surefire way to heat things up and increase defensiveness.

Claire, 26
Negotiator

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Acknowledging the validity of your partner’s anger during a heated argument can be the key to diffusing tension and turning the interaction into something productive. E.g., “You have a valid point about X,Y, and Z; I would be mad in your position, too, and I apologize.” Ask them to explain their anger instead of just express it, so that you can improve in the future. This will not only placate your partner by showing your willingness to be self-critical and flexible, but give you both a chance to learn and avoid such fights in the future.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? No matter what, you should never criticize something inherent to your partner or something they cannot change — at that point, the criticism isn’t constructive, is only intended to cause hurt, and can have negative ramifications long after the argument is resolved.

Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS
Mental health writer, author

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Listen to them. Try to hear their side. Use active listening. So, reflect back to them what they are saying. Also, step away for a few minutes to calm down. You can not effectively solve problems when you are really angry. Come back to the issue later when both you and your partner have had time to calm down and think about things a bit.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? You should never try to purposely hurt your partner during an argument. Don’t call them names, yell at them or say spiteful things. Never get physically aggressive or attempt to intimidate your partner. Never hit, push or slap your partner. Also, don’t throw or break things.

Phyllis, 30
Policy planner, engaged

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? If you can steer the “fight” away from a battle and towards an on-topic discussion of the problem that led to the fight, it becomes about the two of you trying to find middle ground, and you’re more likely to find a resolution.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? Raising your voice, playing the blame game, losing focus and just raging — regardless of who’s at fault, these things will always lead to escalation.

Marion, 31
Critic

In your experience, what’s the best way to defuse an argument with a partner? Sometimes I apologize even if I don’t mean it, just to move things along. But if it’s really serious, being quiet (in a non-shutting down way) and making them feel heard will usually settle things down. Just make sure you actually hear them.
What’s one thing a guy should NEVER do or say during a heated argument? The worst feeling when you’re upset is someone laughing at your rage. It’s diminishing in a total gut-checking way, and fuels feelings of disrespect. Second only to being told to “chill out.”

BTW, guys: If you need to apologize for something really bad, read our apology guide