Four Letters That Just Might Stop Bickering Forever — If You Use Them Correctly

An experienced couples therapist shares a tip for preventing the types of arguing that take an emotional toll.

Couple embracing Danik Prihodko | Canva

Pointless or repetitive arguing can become less like fighting and more like bickering if it goes on for too long, or happens too regularly. This regular tension creates disagreements that can turn nasty at the drop of a hat and leave a bitter aftertaste for hours or days. Frequent repetition of this cycle can turn a relationship toxic.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I'd like to share a mnemonic device I use in my own practice and share with the therapists I train and mentor. I believe it can help prevent a lot of the bickering and fights that take a serious toll on relationships.


How to stop bickering with a four-letter acronym

When things get heated, try to remember the following words in the mnemonic "C.C.A.A.", and then act on them: 





Pausing for a moment to reflect on whether you are prioritizing these actions and pondering the meaning behind the words can help any couple turn disagreements into building blocks that make your marriage stronger and more resilient.

RELATED: The Negotiation Tactic All Couples Should Use For A Successful Marriage


Every couple argues, but some arguments erode trust.

Persistent bickering that becomes arguments weaken the connection between you if the problem is not quickly repaired. Repair can be done, but an early stage argument can often be short-circuited before repair is even necessary.

We argue to make or prove a point or to insist on being right. Arguments begin when we need to defend ourselves or to blame another person.

Complaining about something rather than making a request is another form of argument, while failing to listen well enough to actually hear what is being said has started more than few arguments. Also on the list is one person reacting to a word or phrase without clarifying and then holding on to the resentment, which then becomes fuel for a future disagreement.


Many conversations get derailed because one person has misheard or misunderstood the other. However, by listening and then repeating what you think you heard back to your partner, you can establish a positive flow of communication. You may still be disagreeing with each other, and you may still feel hurt, angry, impatient or defensive but learning and utilizing CCAA can keep a disagreement from becoming an argument.

RELATED: How To Talk About Problems In Your Relationship Without Making Them Worse

Four questions to ask yourself using C.C.A.A. while bickering or during a fight 

When you are listening or when the other person has stopped talking (or they have toned themselves down) try asking yourself these questions:

1. What can I cooperate with?

This is a relationally positive motivator for what has been said or requested.


“You’re asking me to put my stuff out of the way, right? I can do that.” (and actually do so at that moment).

Behavioral cooperation without the affirmative words is better than nothing, but lends itself to demonstrating the opposite through body language. When you pick up after yourself when asked, and do it with an eye roll or exaggerated hand, head or body movements, you communicate “not really…” When your spouse notices, which is probably what you wanted, and says points your actions our, perhaps you say “WHAT?? I’m doing what you asked me to!” this denies cooperation and you might as well have done nothing at all.

2. What can my partner and I collaborate on? Can I make a suggestion of that thing?

Look for ways to work together on a goal with a positive reward for both of you.

“How about if we take five minutes right now (or this evening) to tidy up a little?” Or, “I know you don’t prefer doing chores after work, but we can tidy up a bit now and have then time for relaxing without preoccupation. And doing a little right now will eliminate the need for picking things up tomorrow, so we can go to the movies”.


Or, suggest a trade, “If I clean up the kitchen now, will you put away the camping gear while I’m dealing with the kitchen? Then we can go out for dinner tomorrow.”

3. What has my spouse said or requested that can I accommodate?

Take a breath and ask yourself, "Is there anything I can accept or at least partially agree with or agree to?”

Find a point of agreence, however small it may be and say something about accepting or going along with it, even if you still disagree overall.

Let’s say your partner has said, “can’t you just wipe off the counter after you’ve made your coffee?” Maybe there’s a tone of voice being used that grates on you.


Your urge is to match or mimic the tone. Don’t do that. Look at the counter, see what they're seeing, and wipe the counter. No words are necessary, except for the magic word "OK”.

4. How can I advocate for my partner?

This skill is often the hardest. You'll need to find those moments when you can say,

“I know you like (or are good at, or you are tired, or busy), and I know you need (or want) something from me (state exactly what is being requested). And we need it, so let’s do it!”.

Complementing your spouse on his or her skills and resources without being “gushy”, but matter-of-fact, is another form of advocacy and goes a long way toward building your partner’s awareness of being seen and known.


For example, “The way you take time to formulate your thinking before you speak on a difficult subject is admirable. I’m sure you will be very impressive in the interview just by being your natural self.”

Don’t hesitate to support or amplify something your heard your spouse say to a friend or a neighbor; it’s another opportunity for advocacy. “It sounded like Ann was very upset about something. You did a fabulous job of listening and encouraging her. What a great friend you are!”

RELATED: 5 Boundaries A Marriage Needs In Order To Survive


Obstacles to using any tool to stop fighting or bickering 

Living with another person is often a challenge. When there is a good history and no immediate stressors, then loving another person “is to see the face of God”, or “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”.

We couple out of love, but love isn’t a constant and we have to learn how to be loving when challenged by the other. Challenges in relationships are inevitable.

Remembering C.C.A.A. can stop the slide away from love and get you back on track. In the heat and energy of disagreement and argument, though, remembering anything helpful or connective is difficult! So, commit the four letters to memory and with a little intentionality your relational toolbox with be better equipped.

Cooperate, Collaborate, Accommodate, Advocate your way to a more loving and resilient relationship!


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William "Bill" Meleney is a Washington state-licensed mental health counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, psychotherapist, and life coach. He has 30 years of experience and expertise helping clients deal with relationships, parenting, and mental health.