If you really want to set someone off during an argument, just try telling them to calm down.
As anyone who’s delivered these words knows, this particular phrase rarely has its intended effect. Instead, expressions like “calm down” or “chill out!” are likely to cause the other person to get even angrier, more frustrated and more upset, especially when emotions are already running high.
Similar to annoying mid-fight behaviors like eye rolling, groaning and stonewalling, certain words can instantly turn a productive argument into an unproductive scream-fest.
Below, therapists reveal the seven phrases you should never utter during an argument with a partner, friend, family member or pretty much anyone, for that matter.
1. “You never…” or “You always…”
“These all-or-nothing phrases are typically exaggerations and used to illustrate a point or elicit an emotional response. However, these statements are often inaccurate (e.g., ’You never listen to me!’) and can set your partner up to become defensive. As a result, they’ll likely miss the true message of what you are trying to say and will instead focus on proving you wrong, leading to a circular conversation or argument that goes nowhere.
“Instead, be specific and objective about what is bothering you, use an ‘I’ statement, and stick to the facts. For example, ‘I felt hurt and disregarded yesterday when I asked you to pick up your things before our company arrived and you didn’t. Next time we have guests, I’d really appreciate the help.’” ― Tara Griffith, marriage and family therapist and the founder of Wellspace SF
2. “You’re acting just like your mother.”
“Or brother, crazy best friend or drunk uncle, etc. This move dismisses whatever issue is on the table and goes straight for character assassination. The strategy here: If you’re losing the argument, kill your opponent. Yes, you may well act like your mother, but that’s not the point.” ― Winifred M. Reilly, marriage and family therapist and author of It Takes One to Tango
3. “I’ll talk to you when you can be rational.”
“This is hardly a rational statement. It’s meant to inflict emotional injury rather than ask for a timeout. When arguments get heated, a timeout to let the cortisol and adrenaline settle (for about 20 minutes) is a good idea. Identify the chemical cause: ‘We’re getting too elevated -– I know I am. It’s that damn cortisol and adrenaline! Let’s take 20 minutes so we can talk respectfully like we want and deserve.’” ― Steven Stosny, psychologist and author of Love Without Hurt
4. “We’re done! I’m out of here!”
“Words do matter. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later. Threatening abandonment is probably the most hurtful thing you can say or do to your partner, especially if you really don’t mean it. It’s one thing to want to take a breather, get some space and cool down. It’s another to basically say, ‘I don’t love you anymore and am leaving.’ The sting of those trust-destroying words hurts to the core and you can never take them back.
“Instead of shouting out, take a timeout to calm, center and restore your balance. Make a promise to return at a designated time.” ― Sheri Meyers, marriage and family therapist and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship
5. “You’re such a @#$%&!”
“There is nothing constructive about name-calling or using any type of degrading or derogatory language. These types of insults are often used as a way to express anger and make the other person feel bad, but they will not lead to any type of conflict resolution. Alternatively, they could lead to counterattacks, damage relationships and cause you to feel guilty on top of the negative emotions you already feel. Try to focus on the specific issue or how the person’s actions made you feel, rather than attacking the person.” ― Gina Delucca, clinical psychologist at Wellspace SF
6. “Why are you making such a big deal over nothing?”
“This zinger implies that the upset person has no grounds for their upset. In most instances, this will only throw gasoline onto the fire, since when upset, what we want is to be listened to and understood, not told we’re off-the-wall ridiculous or overreacting. A better move is to ask, ‘Why are you so upset by this?’” ― Reilly
7. “Not this again! Can’t you just drop it and move on?”
“Anything that sends the message that your partner’s viewpoint isn’t valid or their reaction is wrong in the form of, ‘That’s ridiculous,’ ‘You’re just being crazy,’ ‘Calm down, you’re overreacting’ or ‘Oh no, here we go again’ (eye roll and heavy sigh included) is really saying to your partner, ‘Something is wrong with you, I don’t respect what you have to say and I’m not willing to listen, communicate or change.’
“Yes, fighting is stressful. And it’s totally understandable that you may want to avoid another fight by cutting it off at the pass, but using these words is a surefire way to turn an argument from bad to worse. Instead, lean in and be interested. Acknowledge your partner by saying, ‘Tell me more about how you feel and why you are so upset. I want to understand. Let’s try to figure this out together. We are a team.’” ― Meyers