It’s a familiar scene: An argument with your partner heats up, and old grudges start sneaking into the conversation. Your partner lashes out, bringing up that one thing that really pushes your buttons. Now you’ve gone from miffed to deeply insulted. Before lashing back out with your own cutting comment, though, respond with one simple word.
Unlike using phrases that make arguments worse, saying “ouch” could put a heated fight on ice, says marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel.
Your significant other probably knows you better than anyone else, including knowing the trigger words that cut deep. No doubt your partner still loves you, but the heat of the moment is bringing out words you’ll both regret later. That’s why you need to signal your partner that the conversation is getting nasty. Say: “Ouch. That one hurt. I don’t know if you were meaning to hurt me; I don’t know if that’s what you were going for; but that’s what you did,” Runkel tells Business Insider Australia.
That simple word will make your partner—and you—pause before doling out more mean words. With a wake-up call that the argument could cause lasting damage, you can refresh back to the core issue.
“That conversation—which was a very familiar path, that fight — is now a totally different path because one of you chose to actually get vulnerable,” Runkel says. “I am open enough to you that you can actually hurt me. So now how about we talk to each other as if we actually love each other?”
Now that you remember how much words hurt and how much the relationship means to you, you can both move forward calmly.
In a particularly fiery fight, there’s a good chance your partner will be able to whip out plenty of examples of harsh things you’ve said, too. Denying or glossing over that won’t solve anything, so acknowledge you hurt your partner and calmly apologize, says Runkel.
If it doesn’t work and your partner continues being cruel, that dialogue could say a lot about the relationship. But you won’t know until you try making the change yourself.