What you say to your partner can soften orharden hearts, even make or break your relationship. Here are some of the most destructive things you can say to a partner, along with healthier ways to get your feelings and message heard:
If you really loved me you would . . .Guilt tripping doesnt foster intimacy and cooperation. Instead, try: It means a lot to me when you . . .
You always / You never. Always and never are rarely factually correct in couples’ disagreements. Instead, such words or often proxies for strong feelings. If you are conveying a feeling, use feeling words or you will likely end up in a fruitless debate over facts. Try: I felt hurt (sad, upset, frustrated, afraid) when you . . .
I’m not the problem, you are. Such a statement is likely to make your partner feel blamed and defensive. Instead, try: We both are probably contributing to this situation. Can we talk about how to make it better?
Stop being so sensitive (needy, dramatic, etc.) Labeling is insulting and non productive. Instead, try: You seem to feel strongly about this. Can you help me understand your feelings better?
Dont take this the wrong way . . . If you are saying this, you already know it is a sensitive topic. If you dont want your partner to take something the wrong way, dont say it in the wrong way.
You need to take responsibility. Responsibility cannot be given, it can only be taken. Telling others they are responsible can lead to stonewalling or counterattack. Instead, try: Can we clarify our roles? How do you view your and my responsibilities in this situation?
Youre acting just like your mother (father). Its hard for this not to come across as a put down. Instead, try: Im confused (or frustrated). Can you help me understand what you want or are trying to accomplish when you do that?
Words are loaded pistols. Jean-Paul Sartre
I want a divorce / Im done. These are nuclear options. They should only be used a maximum of once per relationship. Instead, try: I am concerned about some things in our relationship. Can we talk about them? If it feels too difficult to do this on our own, would you go with me to couples counseling?
I hate you. No matter how hurt, angry or afraid you may feel, hate is a toxic word for your partner.Try: I love you but I dont like you right now. Or say: I may not be in the best place to hear you right now. I dont want to say anything hurtful or that I might regret. Could we take a breather and revisit this in a little while?
You’re clueless. Try: I am puzzled by your behavior. Can we talk about it?
Whatever! / Oh, just forget it. Most of us feel like throwing up our hands at times in a close relationship but Whatever can come across as dismissive. Instead, try: I am frustrated. I am having trouble communicating what I want to say. Can we talk about this so that we both feel heard and understood?
I shouldn’t have to ask. If you cared about me, you would know what I want.As much as we may wish that our partners can read our minds and seamlessly give us what we want, this is a childs fantasy. We can expect our partners to care about our needs but expecting them to know needs which we havent articulated is neither realistic nor productive. As Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, famously quipped, No askee, no gettee. Ask for what you want.
My girlfriends (mom, dad, sister, brother, your ex) were right about you. This is unlikely to make things better and can poison your partners relationships with other people. Instead, try: I feel discouraged about what is happening right now. Would you be willing to have a constructive conversation with me about this?
Copyright Dan Neuharth PhD MFT