9 phrases you should never use during the heat of an argument (according to psychology)

Look, I know you feel really angry sometimes.

Your partner may have poked at one of your insecurities accidentally; your friend might have cancelled yet another dinner; your co-worker is so disorganized and unreliable that you just want to punch a hole in the wall.

An argument ensues. And in the midst of it, it’s very easy to lose grip on your feelings. To completely lose yourself in all the rage. And to say something hurtful that you don’t mean but can’t take back once it’s out.

Here are the 9 phrases you should never use during the heat of an argument – even if you’re very mad.

1) “You’re acting crazy!”

I’ve been guilty of using this phrase once or twice in the past.

Yeah, I’m not proud of it. 

Years ago, I was arguing with one of my friends, and since I couldn’t wrap my head around where she was coming from at all, I said the only thing that came to mind: “You’re acting crazy! I don’t get it!”

Obviously, she found this very hurtful because my words essentially invalidated how she felt in the moment and made it impossible for her to argue back.

Psychotherapist Amy Lewis Bear, MS, LPC, explains: “Dismissing the feelings of others can cause them to feel invisible and unimportant.”

I’ve since learned to always approach the person I’m arguing with in an empathetic manner. If they are leashing out from a wounded place I don’t quite understand, I try to ask questions that will allow me to better grasp what they’re feeling.

And I also try to think twice before saying something that may hurt someone else.

2) “You’re pathetic!”

Ouch. This one hurts a lot.

I once attended a nonverbal communication seminar, and the teacher told us something I’ll never forget: “Contempt is the first sign a relationship is coming apart at the seams.”

Every relationship – whatever its nature – should be based on a stable foundation of respect.

If you don’t respect the other person, it becomes very easy to feel contempt, bitterness, or a sense of superiority, which tips the dynamic of the relationship in a very unhealthy direction.

The truth of the matter is that if you genuinely think someone’s pathetic or lame, you have already lost a sense of respect. And if no proper change occurs, you might only continue to lose it until nothing remains.

I know because I’ve gone through the very same process in one of my previous relationships. Lo and behold, we broke up.

However, it’s important to note I never said these precise words – “You’re pathetic” – out loud. I knew they were coming from a dark place inside me and I knew how hurtful they would be if they ever saw the light of day.

There was simply no need to be mean, and so I refrained.

3) “You never/always do this!”

This phrase sounds quite innocent compared to the ones above, however, it can be just as harmful in the long term.

When you generalize the other person’s behavior, you’re automatically putting them on the defensive instead of inviting them into a respectful discussion about a specific action.

Look at these two examples:

  • “I felt frustrated when you didn’t put the dishes away yesterday like you had said you would. It’s important to me that you keep your word”
  • “You never put away the dishes! It’s so annoying! Why can’t you ever keep your word?!”

The first opens a conversation that is solution-oriented and that uses gentle language to sort out an issue. The latter comes across as an attack, which means the other person immediately feels like they have to defend themselves and have a fight.

Marriage and family therapist Andrea Brandt, PhD, writes:

“’Always’ and ‘never’ are rarely factual. When you use phrases that include ‘always’ or ‘never,’ you’re telling a partner that they can’t ever do something right and that you don’t believe they can change. This leads your partner to feel resigned and not try.”

The outcome of this phrase is either another argument or resignation. Neither is an effective way to solve the issue at hand.

4) “I don’t have time for this!”

 If someone picks a fight with you right when you’re about to go to work or save a kitten from immediate danger, it makes perfect sense that you don’t have time.

However, the truth is that many people who use this phrase during arguments do, indeed, have time – they just don’t want to deal with the argument in question any longer.

Unfortunately, “I don’t have time for this” rarely saves you time. More often than not, you will end up fighting about the same problem over and over again until you finally manage to resolve it.

Therefore, the most time-efficient way to handle an argument is to take it seriously and make space for it. Not only that but you will also show the other person that you value your relationship with them and want to make sure you’re both no longer upset and happy with the outcome.

In most cases, you do have time. You just have to prioritize the relationship’s well-being.

5) “Just drop it, okay?”

phrases men often say when they lack emotional maturity 1 9 phrases you should never use during the heat of an argument (according to psychology)

It’s very frustrating if someone keeps bringing up the same issue and can’t seem to move on.

However, it’s even more frustrating when you’re the one who needs to talk about the same problem over and over again because nothing seems to change or because you haven’t received the validation you wanted.

Has “Just drop it” ever worked for anybody? I doubt it.

Again, we’re dealing with emotional invalidation here.

By telling someone to just drop the issue and move on, you’re essentially saying, “I don’t care about your feelings, I just want to have some peace and quiet. Can you stop feeling how you’re feeling or at least stop telling me about it?”

Of course, this kind of attitude doesn’t help solve anything. As psychologist Mark Travers PhD says, “Having one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors dismissed and rejected can be extremely hurtful and isolating.”

If you dismiss someone’s concerns during the heat of an argument, they will probably only get more upset.

6) “Fine, whatever!”

Yet another way to dismiss someone is to agree with what they’re saying – in a very passive-aggressive way.

“Fine, whatever” basically screams, “I’m not happy with this but I don’t want to deal with you anymore!”

Passive aggression is never the answer. In fact, psychologists say it can have a very harmful impact on one’s relationships with others.

If you disagree with the outcome of the conversation, say it. Don’t “whatever” the other person.

7) “If you really cared about me, you would…”

Ah, good old emotional manipulation has entered the chat.

“If you really cared about me, you would” has three purposes:

  • It expresses doubt in the other person’s feelings for you, invalidating their emotional experience
  • It forces them to explain themselves and their love for you instead of tackling the main issue
  • It manipulates them into feeling guilty and trying their best to prove you wrong

None of those are based on respect and trust. If you have the other person’s best interests at heart, always aim to avoid emotional manipulation.

8) “You’re such an *insult*!”

It goes without saying that verbal and physical abuse should be avoided at all times.

And yet many people resort to calling the other person names if they get really angry and don’t know how to find their way out of the argument unscathed.

Of course, insults and name-calling don’t ever move the argument in a productive direction. They only make everything worse.

Plus, they also hurt the other person’s feelings and break their trust in you.

9) “I’m done! This conversation is over!”

 When emotions get heated, it makes complete sense that you want to take a step back and decompress for a bit.

In fact, research shows that solitude can be a good thing in such instances because it helps you regulate your emotions, calm down, and self-reflect. When you come back to the conversation, you’re in a much more rational state of mind, so there’s a high chance you won’t have another argument.

However, the manner in which you ask for space is incredibly important.

When you shout, “I’m done! This conversation is over!” and storm out, you’re basically claiming the last word and door-slamming the other person. Since they don’t have any space to respond, they are left to boil in their own anger and hurt.

Here are some alternatives you can try:

  • “I’m not thinking clearly because I’m very upset. I’d like to take some space and talk about this in an hour or so, okay?”
  • “I think I need a time-out to calm down and process my feelings”
  • “We’re both very angry. How about we take a step back for a bit and then talk about it again?”

Arguments can get too heated if you’re not careful. This is why paying attention to the words you use and the tone in which you speak is extremely important.

And if you’re able to have a productive discussion that ends with a compromise, amazing! 

That’s an argument well done.

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Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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