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Change Your Language, Change Your Relationship

Have you ever wondered how some conversations with your partner can descend into bickering so quickly?

It’s true that conflict in relationships can be caused by deeper, underlying tension. Sometimes it might feel impossible to change your relationship. But conflict can also arise from misunderstandings. And those can happen from the simple mechanics of word choice – and how we choose to talk about things in general.

In other words, if you “fix” your language, it can change your relationship for the better.

A Simple Change Can Go Far

The next time you feel tension in an exchange with your partner, try this simple flip of the script.

FIRST: Pause

Once a conversation gains a disagreeable tone, the bad mood can snowball – or avalanche. This is why it is so important to take a breath.

Have you ever tried to take back words that you regretted? It’s not an easy process, is it? Apologies do matter, but only time and consistent positivity can meld a reset.

Instead, if you can manage to pause before you react, you may save you and your loved one pain and time spent healing.

THEN: Reflect

Often, arguments occur because one partner doesn’t feel heard. The dialogue gets stuck at this unheard point as they try various tactics to feel understood.

This might be especially frustrating if you really did take in what your partner said. Why do they keep repeating themselves? Or perhaps they even accuse you of not listening. “But I am listening!”

This is where a simple speech switch can make a difference and change your relationship. Because our brains are wired to absorb information and react quickly under stress, you naturally lead with your reaction to what was just said. Meanwhile, your partner is still in the mire of the feelings they just expressed. 

Instead, say back to them how they feel. It might feel repetitive or even redundant, but it’s actually a very straightforward, validating tool.

So, instead of:

“I’m annoyed that you didn’t leave any breakfast for me…”

“I’m stressed and in a hurry to get to work. Do we have to talk about this now?”

“But there were enough servings for two – did I even cross your mind?”

Try this:

“I’m annoyed that you didn’t leave any breakfast for me…”

“I see. You’re bothered that I ate all the oatmeal, and now you have to make something else for yourself.”

“Yeah. I mean, I know that you’re in a hurry to get out the door and probably didn’t think about it.”

NEXT: Say How You Feel

It may take a few tries for your partner to feel validated and calm down – but you’ll notice that, practiced consistently, reflection does work. Once they feel heard, they’ll be far more receptive to your end of the dialogue.

Let’s revisit that conversation.

“You’re right. I feel stressed, and I’m in a hurry to get to work, so I wasn’t thinking very considerately.”

“It’s okay.”

“Thanks. I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep a clearer head tomorrow morning.”

CLOSE IT OUT: Reassure

Even a small tiff can feel like a papercut on your relationship. Put some balm on that cut with sincere reassurance.

That could take the form of:

  • Calling out what you appreciate about them
  • A warm hug
  • A considerate favor
  • Just saying “I love you”

Relationship Skills Give You Hope

While this method isn’t a panacea, it’s worth a try to smooth out smaller wrinkles in your communication. In general, the lens of “skill learning” in relationships helps erase shame and blame. And you’d be amazed at how your attitude can lighten when just one potential conflict dissolves instead of amplifying – it really can change your relationship.

If you and your partner are struggling with more intense problems, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a professional counselor. It’ll be much more difficult to fix things alone, and your relationship is worth the investment.



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Copyright @2020 Dana Cole, LMFT