Words are powerful, and in a relationship they can be used to both bring people together or push them apart.
As a therapist, I’ve noticed that there are several statements couples commonly make to each other that destroy the foundation of their relationship. Sometimes the words are used deliberately to hurt the other person, and sometimes the destruction comes about through carelessness.
If you want to have a healthy relationship, it’s important to be aware of the impact your words will have on your partner.
Here are the top relationship destroying statements that couples make to each other, and some ideas of what to say instead.
- If you love me, you should______ (fill in the blank: remember my birthday, pick up your underwear, plan date nights…) This may be how you feel, but the fact is your partner can love you very deeply and still do things that hurt you or make you angry. It may be because of habit or carelessness, or some deeper unconscious issue that this happens, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. What it does mean is that you don’t feel loved by them. Try this instead: When you remember my birthday, I feel loved by you. When you forget, I feel neglected and unloved.
- I shouldn’t have to ask you for what I need. If you really loved me, you’d know. Spouses and lovers aren’t mind readers. Although it may feel fake or not meaningful, asking for what you want is a great way to get it. You should also take some time to evaluate what it really is that you need. It may not be that you need flowers on your birthday but that you need to feel remembered and special. This is where the discussion needs to happen. Try this instead: I want to feel loved and cherished by you, and right now I’m not. In the past, when you ______, it made me so happy.
- I hate you. This statement can do severe damage in a relationship. Rather than simply saying “I hate you,” say how you feel. Try this instead: I’m so furious with you right now. What you said/did hurt me deeply. Remember that words often stick around in the listener’s head long after the speaker has forgotten them.
- You are fat/ugly/stupid/weak. If you’re saying these things to your partner, chances are they have done something to hurt you, and you want to hurt them back. But saying things that are personally hurtful and engaging in name calling doesn’t solve anything. This is another situation where you want to say how you feel rather than trying to hurt the other person. Try this instead: I am angry. You hurt me, and part of me wants to hurt you back so you’ll know how upset I am.
- You always/never____. The words ‘always’ and ‘never’ are conversation killers, and they immediately put the listener on the defensive. And while it may be tempting to say, “you never do the dishes,” chances are that’s not an accurate statement. Your partner will want to make sure you remember all the times he or she did do the dishes. Rather than using absolutes, use more accurate terms. Try this instead: For the past three nights, you’ve left all the dishes undone, and I have had to do them before work.
What you say to your partner really does matter. Take some time to consider what words you say that harm your relationship, and make a point to speak in a more careful and meaningful way. You may be surprised at how changing the things you say strengthens and improves your partnership.
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Last reviewed: 11 Feb 2013
Harmon, J. (2013). Relationship Destroying Statements, and What to Say Instead. Psych Central.
Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2013/02/relationship-destroying-statements-and-what-to-say-instead/