Relationship expert reveals the one word that can defuse any argument

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Kayleigh Dray
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From Disney films to HBO’s Sex and the City, we’ve long been peddled the idea of a romantic happy ever after: we’ll find The One, lock lips, settle down, and remain together in blissful happiness for as long as we both shall live.

Only it isn’t quite like that, is it? Because love – real love – takes work. Sure, it’s wonderful, and you get to know the ins and outs of that special someone. And, in turn, they get to know e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g about you as you relax into showing off your most unfiltered self yet.

But with honesty comes all those nitty-gritty details. You have to deal with the fact that they spray crumbs all over your flat whenever they so much as glance as a piece of toast, that they use the chair in their bedroom to store all of their dirty clothes, and that they never replace the toilet roll once they’ve used it up.

Worst of all, of course, is the fact that they know exactly what to say to push your buttons – which can make for some seriously intense arguments.

As marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel puts it, “no one can touch you like the one you expose yourself most to, but no one can hurt you like the one you expose yourself most to.”

That’s right: the fights we have with those we love are often the most painful of all, and the hardest to recover from. Much like storms, they blow up out of nowhere, leaving damage in their wake – and, sometimes, the damage is irreparable.

But, as it turns out, there’s one simple word which can put a stop to toxic arguments – and it’s a pretty surprising one.

Speaking to the Business Insider, Runkel revealed that we all need to start adding a simple ‘ouch’ to our vocabulary.

He said: “[Try saying something like] ‘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 continued: “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.

“It wasn't a step of pushing [your partner] away. It was a step of inviting [your partner] in by saying: You know what? 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?”

Runkel is not the first to advise couples on how best to conduct their arguments: John Gottman, a professor of psychology who specialises in martial stability, has revealed that we need to avoid “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” when fighting with our partners.

These are:

  • Criticism (framing complaints in the context of a defect in your partner)
  • Contempt (name calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour)
  • Defensiveness (making excuses to explain away your actions)
  • Stonewalling (withdrawing from a conversation, even if physically present)

Gottman also encourages couples to stop using the word “you” in arguments, and choosing instead to use the word “I” – and to work on their marriage each and every single day, rather than just when it is in trouble.

“Reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went,” he says. “This will help to bleed off stress from the day, and stop it from negatively affecting your relationship.”

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.