They say all’s fair in love and war — but what happens when the two mix and you accidentally blurt out something cruel to your partner in the heat of the moment? It’s rare to find the couple that hasn’t had at least one explosive fight during their time together. What may start off as a silly little argument over dirty socks left on the bedroom floor can quickly escalate into a full-blown battle in which both parties decide now is the perfect time to reveal the 300 things that drive them crazy about the other person.
Often times, though, the biggest problem with these fights isn’t that couples are communicating honestly about their hurt feelings and resentments. It’s that they aren’t being straightforward with their relationship concerns and are instead unleashing the power of their fury through insults and exaggerated accusations.
Relationship and etiquette expert April Masini, author of four relationship advice books and the Ask April advice column, lets us in on the three most common insults and hurtful things she says couples have said to one another during a fight.
1. “You’re a [insert string of expletives here]!”
Your potty mouth is a wonderful asset at times, especially when you want to emphasize to friends how wonderful or horrible a film, meal or song is in your humble opinion. But using this skill and power against your partner can transform an argument into an ugly war very quickly. “We all lose control and let the cuss words rip because it helps us express anger and it’s shorthand for, ‘I’m really, really mad at you,’” Masini says. “Those curse words make it super clear, super fast, how you feel. However, that doesn’t make it right, and whenever possible, expand your vocabulary and use words that are not seen on bathroom walls.”
What if you’re on the receiving end of a slew of F- and B-words? It’s important to let your partner know this is unacceptable to you and that you won’t stand for it, but you may also want to cut him a break and give him another chance, particularly if you both let things get out of hand during a conflict. “Understand that your partner lost control, and when a little time passes, if he or she hasn’t apologized, tell them you’re accepting apologies,” Masini says. “That usually gets the make-up ball rolling.”
2. “Your mother/child is a ____”
Yikes. Insulting your partner’s mother, father or child is a huge boo-boo on your part and will open up a wound that will take a lot of time to heal. “Speaking ill of his mother (or children) is like touching the third rail,” Masini says. “You should never do it — and yet, in the heat of anger, occasionally, you call his mother or children the names you think of privately and don’t utter. Until now. This will sting worse than if you’d insulted him directly. The problem with this type of insult during a fight is that once the cat is out of the bag, it’s out of the bag. You can’t stuff it back in, and you’ll have to do some major processing after what you fought about is resolved. Insulting his parents or children creates a secondary problem that lingers.”
Bottom line: If you’re so mad that cruel thoughts about his family members linger on your tongue, take a time out and go for a walk before you say something you will definitely regret.
3. “You wouldn’t know a good birthday present if it smacked you in the face”
Insulting your partner’s inability to buy good gifts for your birthday or his lack of knowledge on how to dress with pizzazz or one of hundreds of other things you can say that have nothing to do with your true pain are very common — especially when you feel you’ve reached an impasse in your fight and no one is willing to budge.
“You get so mad and you feel that you can’t reach him, so you lash out and tell him you’ve hated all the birthday presents he’s ever given you — all of them,” Masini says. “You don’t really mean it, but you aren’t making a dent in the fight so you’ve dug deep and focused on hurting him, not communicating your feelings about what it is you’re fighting about.”
Rather than feel like you have to make up right away or get some sort of resolution in your conflict before bedtime, let it go. Agree to disagree for today and give each other the space you both need instead of digging an even deeper hole by insulting each other’s hair or gift-giving abilities. You’re far more likely to wake up the next morning and see your problems with clarity when you aren’t also angry about that thing your partner said about your oral sex skills. Rise above it for the sake of your relationship.