Using Code Words For Better Communication With Your Partner

Do you have the same fight with your spouse over the same topic over and over? You might be fighting about the fact that he always tells a solution when you just want to complain and vent. Or she counters every fight with that one time that she took care of you while you were sick. Maybe it is something as simple as an annoying tick that your partner has and it irritates you to the point of an argument.


Signs You’re In A Recurring Argument

How do you know if you’re in a recurring argument? Signs that you are in a recurring argument:


  • You or your partner use absolute words, such as always, every time, or never.
  • You remember having this argument earlier that week.
  • You both feel like you are in the right.
  • There is no real resolution to the argument and you feel sad afterwards.


Recurring arguments can make us feel stuck and hopeless. Sometimes you need a tool to help break the cycle. A great tool that my husband and I have used over the years is “code words.” Code words, or neutral words that are not associated with the argument, can help identify the illogical rabbit hole that we tend to go down when our emotions take the better of us. 

A “code word” is usually decided upon after the recurring argument over the particular issue. It takes the cognitive recognition of both parties to identify a recurring argument. In order to bring up this topic after an argument, both parties need to be settled down and in a logical frame of mind with their fiery emotions left at the door.


My husband I struggled with recurring arguments every time I would ovulate. I would lash out at him for a chore that he didn’t do correctly, or at all, and he would defend himself with everything else he does around the house. We got nowhere.

After the argument I would recognize that my hormones were out of control because it's that time of the month, and I felt out of control during the argument. If my husband attempted to tell me, “It's just your hormones,” I would fly off the handle at the accusation that my initial argument wasn’t valid. So, we came up with a code word that my husband could use so that I could check myself to see if it was the time of the month that my hormones took over. He used “pineapple.”


Choosing A Code Word

We like to make our code words have nothing to do with the subject at hand. That way, in the heat of the discussion, if your partner blurts out “pineapple,” it throws off the argument, making him or her less likely to be defensive. How could you get defensive when you yell at your partner, “You never do the dishes. I always do them! You don’t respect me!” and he yells back, “Pineapple.” You cannot help but stop and think for a second. This second is all you need to analyze the situation and remember the discussion you had with your partner about the code words and take a pause.

Eventually, your code words become obsolete. You and your partner have hopefully used the code words enough to the point of recognizing the recurring argument and it is resolved.


There are several guidelines to follow with the use of code words:

  1. Code words cannot relate to the actual argument. The point of the code word is to distract your brain and emotions for a second to check in with yourself and be reminded of your rational discussion that you had with your partner. It is difficult to find a word that relates to the argument that is neutral and it's better to be more random.
  2. Code words are about changing the context of the argument, so that both parties recognize that they are spiraling down the same argument path and it is time to check in.


Code words can be an extremely helpful tool to have in your relationship toolkit, but they shouldn’t be your only tool. Mindfulness, quality time, and self-care are also great tools to include as well.