The One Word Happy Couples Use To Stop Fights Before They Start

It's not magic, but the results can seem like it.

couple having conversation Zamrznuti tonovi / Shutterstock

Have you noticed when you're in conflict with your partner that you tend to go around in circles, often having the same arguments over and over?

For example, one of the couples who came to us for counseling went round after round about their sex life. He wanted more physical intimacy (claiming that and their intimate life had significantly diminished since the early years of their marriage). She complained that all he wanted is to get her into bed. She felt like an object, and that he no longer invested time in all the little, romantic things he used to do.


Together, they felt caught in a turbulent cycle of finger-pointing and frustration. Each of them feels wronged and stuck. No matter how much they argued, the problem didn't go away ... just the opposite. By the time they came to us, little intimacy remained.

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Uncovering your unconscious communication patterns

The example above is just one of the many ways couples get into long-standing fights. It could be about anything — money, chores, parenting, in-laws, or how people squeeze a tube of toothpaste.


If you keep experiencing the same argument with your partner, you're in a pattern that has nothing to do with them.

Instead, your partner and the situation are merely acting as triggers for an underlying, often longstanding issue. And the argument will repeat until you address that core issue.

Make sure to stop and take that in, because this insight has the power to completely transform your relationship—not just with your partner, but anyone else you communicate with.

It could be an issue with your mother. You're annoyed that she keeps telling you how to run your house. Or, your colleague. Maybe you think they're always trying to steal the limelight from you.


If you have ongoing arguments with your kids (and we bet you do), these are also gateways to underlying patterns you have the power to shift. And it only takes one word to do it.

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The one-word solution to conflict resolution

So, ready? The one word you can use to shift any long-standing argument is this: "Hmmm."

It might seem inconsequential, and too simple a word to end long-standing issues. But taking a moment to pause in the heat of an argument and shifting into a state of wonder is the catalyst for ending a pattern.

In phonetics, the "mmm" sound is classified as "voiced bilabial nasal" — a communicative noise made using both lips and by the release of air through the nose. It's a natural stopping point or slight pause in the course of speaking. In layman's terms, "hmmm" is an expression of thought, of rational consideration. 


Here's how it works. Start with the long single "hmmm" syllable and ask yourself a relevant question to get yourself thinking about a situation in a different way.

"Hmmm ... how could I have contributed to this conflict?"

While it may seem like there's always a "bad guy" in a fight, in a relationship you're usually looking at a dynamic.

In the case of the husband and wife we mentioned above, he had to admit that he did indeed stop making an effort to pay attention to his wife in the little ways he had done before, but she also realized that when he did try to please her, she would express disappointment rather than appreciation.

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"Hmmm ... has this happened before?"

Here you're looking to uncover any unconscious patterns that may have led to the current situation. You're trying to find anything that might feel familiar in your past.

With our distant couple, the husband sadly remembered that he often felt unloved as a child, so he unwittingly put a stopper on the amount of love he could now receive from his wife. As for her part, she harbored a fear of intimacy that actually erected a wall to keep her husband at a safe distance.

"Hmmm ... what can I do to create a solution here?"

Often, fighting becomes a hard habit to break. We spin our wheels without actually reaching for a solution.


So, the "hmmm" here is to shift from blaming to creating — taking the energy wrapped up in ceaseless finger-pointing—and using it to come up with possible ways to solve the problem.

Try "hmmm" the next time you're upset with your partner. Snapping out of long-standing patterns requires practice and dedication, but we've seen it happen time and again — in both our own relationship and those of the many couples we've counseled.

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Katie and Gay Hendricks are experts who have written over 30 books, trained thousands of coaches, appeared on Oprah, and hosted seminars around the globe.