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In most relationships (yes, the happy ones too), fighting from time to time is normal—healthy even. You’re probably aware of the obvious no-nos, like name-calling, screaming, and the big one: any form of physical harm. But there’s one more subtle thing that you really shouldn’t do during an argument with your partner—and it’s incredibly common, Gayane Aramyan, LMFT, a Los Angeles–based therapist specializing in relationships, tells SELF.
Well, technically, it’s two things: “You should avoid using the words ‘never’ or ‘always,’” Aramyan says. In other words, every time your partner forgets to pick their dirty socks up off the floor, don’t respond with, “You always leave your stuff lying around.” Or when you’re sick of repeating yourself over and over (and over) again, try your best not to instinctively shout, “You never listen to me!”
“These absolutes are usually not factual,” Aramyan says. (To use the previous examples, there probably have been times when your partner heard you out or put their gym clothes in the mother-effing hamper for once.) And even if your accusations were accurate, “saying ‘always’ or ‘never’ can cause the other person to become defensive, and a conversation cannot be productive when either partner puts their guard up,” she adds. (It’s kinda hard to actively listen and resolve an issue when you’re so focused on your counterattack.)
That isn’t to say you should bottle up your feelings. Having disagreements and being truthful about your concerns and pet peeves—like their poor communication habits or frequent tardiness, let’s say—can actually help deepen your relationship and bring you closer, according to Aramyan. However, that’s only when you approach these conflicts with care.
A more effective (and considerate) approach than slamming them with “always” or “never”: Use “I statements” and reframe your frustration as a concern—not an accusation, Aramyan recommends. For example, before you give your significant other a hard time for always forgetting about date nights, start the conversation with, “I was really looking forward to the dinner you said you planned tonight. What happened?” Or, if you do a lot for them and their lack of thank-you’s is making you feel seriously underappreciated, try something like, “I feel like you haven’t been acknowledging the effort I’ve been putting into spending more time together. What do you think?”
That way, “you’re coming from a place of curiosity, rather than going in with an assumption that your partner ‘never’ or ‘always’ does something,” Aramyan says—which, again, will probably set you up for more conflict. After all, in a healthy relationship, the ultimate goal of hashing it out is to strengthen your connection—not to “win” the “Who’s right?” debate.
Originally Appeared on SELF