02/24/2011 02:04 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

5 Things You Should Not Do When You Argue

  1. Don't say, "Calm down."
  2. These are two measly words guaranteed to piss off your partner to the nth degree. "Lighten up" and "Relax" also fall under that same category, and yes, I'm guilty, too. These words result in the complete opposite reaction you want. In fact, in most cases, these "self-destructive instructions" heighten the original state that you're trying to instruct to change. Author Seth Godin adds that "I was joking" should also be on the list because it's an "incredibly lame excuse for a failed interaction."

  3. Don't "stonewall."
  4. Call it the cave. Call it being aloof. Regardless of the term, stonewalling is a defense mechanism people revert to in order not to deal with the problem. Many of us have reacted this way as a child -- going dead silent and using non-participation in dialogue as some sort of punishment. While you may have gotten away with it as a kid, in adult relationships, this is not an acceptable or productive way of dealing with things.

  5. Don't swear.
  6. You're pissed. Your partner's pissed. The person that just yesterday you were swooning over suddenly is the one person you want to throw out the window. At the height of your anger, it's easy to see your partner as the ultimate evil, your enemy and opponent. It's easy to get defensive and nasty. It's easy to use language that reflects the terrible mood you're in. But don't. Because in a few hours, or days, you will make up. And when the original issue of the argument is eventually resolved, the nasty words and names you called each other in the process may not easily fade.

  7. Don't get into "you're wrong" mode.
  8. You can present all the facts, complete with proof and analytics, but if you are in an emotionally heated debacle with your partner, the flip charts mean nothing. Of course, if one person is completely off base, a little reality and reasoning is needed. However, trying to prove the other person wrong and yourself right will get you nowhere. The immediate result you want is to be happy and to put an end to the terrible mood. Proving your partner is wrong is not the way to get there. Listening, trying to be compassionate, understanding and setting aside your ego, however...

  9. Don't play down your partner's emotions.

The worst thing you can do to someone when they are feeling emotional, distraught or upset is to ignore or play down their emotions. For example, your partner is feeling insecure and crying. In response, you ignore. The result: anger. When people do not feel heard or feel that their feelings have been disregarded, they may feel disrespected, uncared for, unheard and voiceless. React this way to your partner, and the result will be heightened distress, not a disappearance of the problem. Remember: Just because you can ignore a problem for a while, it doesn't mean it will just go away, and it doesn't mean it's not your problem. Reality is, when you're in a partnership with someone, their problems are yours, and your problems are theirs.


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