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If you are really spoiling for a fight with your partner, there is a method that works almost every time: tell your partner that they “always” do something, that they “never” do something, or that they “are” something. Using negatives in an absolute way creates a level of defensiveness and frustration that even the calmest partner is unlikely to be able to resist.

If, on the other hand, you want to have a peaceful relationship, a good place to start is with an understanding of the damage that absolute statements can cause. Obviously, one of the reasons absolute statements are so hurtful is that they are inaccurate. They make the other person feel attacked, and rightfully so. There is really no reason to use absolute statements except to hurt your partner, as there are much gentler and more effective ways to make a point.

There are two less obvious dangers of absolute statements, however. First off, absolute statements make it less likely that your partner will try to correct the behavior that you are complaining about. If he has been trying to be more affectionate, and you say, “You are never affectionate toward me!” the message you send is that you are not going to give him credit for any attempts he makes to change. That would certainly encourage most people to stop trying.

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The other less obvious danger is that absolute statements can quickly derail a useful conversation into a discussion of whether your absolute statement is accurate. Your partner will bring up examples of his efforts that go against your statement, and you will likely belittle his efforts in an attempt to prove that your statement was justified. Not only is that an argument that is completely unwinnable by either side, it is also a completely useless argument. Nowhere that argument goes will be nearly as useful as a discussion that stays focused on the real issue at hand instead of shooting off towards a discussion of semantics.

So if you want to have productive discussions instead of fights, try to keep the conversation focused on specific examples instead of using absolute statements. Describe your frustrations as accurately as possible, without the attack or exaggeration of absolute statements, and go from there. Without the distraction of absolute statements, you will get a lot further with a lot less effort.

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