Relationships aren’t always unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes, it takes real effort to make things work in the right direction for both partners. And most of the time, it’s not about the materialistic part of a relationship, the gifts and the expensive holidays, but the daily interaction between the two of you.
What you say and how you say it might not seem like that big of a deal but some simple words might make your significant other feel rejected, neglected, or not heard. According to therapists, the negative and oftentimes toxic phrases you use can create a huge rift in your relationship.
Here’s what you should stop saying to your partner and how to rephrase and soften what you have to say to make your relationship work in the long term.
Toxic phrases to stop using with your partner:
“Can you give me an example?”
If you and your significant other are in the middle of an argument and you want them to give you an example of one of your actions that offended them in a way, stop. That’s because what you’re really doing is helping them confirm that their opinion is right and what you did was wrong, says Lauren Consul, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
If you’re really trying to understand what made them feel that way, then your request might be valid. But in many cases, “there’s a toxic approach that puts our partner on the defensive and creates a disconnect, and an approach from genuine curiosity and understanding that helps us grow,” explains Consul.
“I hear you, but…”
Even a simple and seemingly unimportant word as “but” can cause serious damage and change the entire course of your discussion. When you say something like “I hear you, but…” you automatically invalidate the other person’s feelings and opinions.
Consul recommends rephrasing this to something that allows your partner to feel understood and cared for. “I understand that you are upset about this. Is it ok to tell you my perspective on the situation?”.
“Come on, this again?”
The automatic answer to such a statement is “Yes, this again.” It automatically causes the other person to become resentful and on the defensive. If your discussion takes this course, then, you can be sure that nothing good will come out if it.
“This question shows that the person who said it does not want to engage in the conversation and doesn’t think that it’s worth discussing as it has been discussed previously,” explains Natasha Deen, LCPC, NCC, a therapist at Golden Hour Counseling.
This can feel hurtful to someone who wants to take a weight off their shoulders. It can also be seen by the hurt partner as a game of power, and feel inferior for having to give an explanation every time they want to have a discussion.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
This is just another way to blame the other person for the predicament you’re both in. If your apology is followed by something like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, it means you don’t take responsibility and accountability for what you said that caused them pain.
According to Brianna Morgis, PhD, LMFT, assistant professor of counseling psychology at Delaware Valley University, what you’re doing instead is making them feel like it’s their fault for the way they feel and their responsibility to correct the situation.
Morgis recommends rephrasing it as “I’m sorry that I said/did something to upset you.” It will work much better.
“That’s not something to be upset over.”
Saying this to a person who is trying to open up and talk about their feelings is like punching them straight in the face. How someone reacts and feels to a certain situation is subjective, therefore, you cannot ask someone to have the same opinion as you do. What you’re doing is minimizing their feelings and turning their emotional response into a wrong one.
According to Ashley Weigl, LLMSW, MPH, a couple therapist, it can make your significant other feel alone in the relationship, aggravate their pain, and prolong their discomfort. Instead of discounting your partner’s feelings, try asking them to identify what exactly makes them upset.
“Can you just let this go?”
Certain problems can’t get solved as easily as one would hope. But using such a phrase will definitely not help things move forward. If you want your significant other to let something go, try to understand their problem first. Say something such as “I really want to understand why this is important to you. Can you please help me understand?”.
Weigl says it’s really important that you listen to them for real, not while preparing your counterstrike in your mind. In this way, you can both cooperate efficiently to solve the issue and move forward instead of fighting about it again.
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“Why don’t you just calm down?”
Asking someone to calm down is never a good idea. For one, it will have the exact opposite effect. When your partner hears this, they think, ‘I am too much for this person I love, and I can’t share my true emotions with them,'” explains Weigl.
In the long term, it will make the other person build a wall and withdraw behind it, as they will feel neglected and afraid to say what’s on their mind and in their heart.
Instead of telling them to calm down, try to understand what made them feel upset and what you can do about it. This will help you re-establish your connection and bridge the gap between you and your partner, making them feel heard, seen and understood.
“I think it’s best we go our separate ways”
This is something you should never bring up unless you really mean it. If you’re just using it to threaten your partner and manipulate them into doing things your way, stop right now. It’s true that many things can be said in the heat of the argument but bringing up divorce into the equation is never a good idea.
For one you may not mean it, but it’s a message to your partner that they are not wanted anymore. It’s hurtful and disrespectful that you’re not willing to put in more effort into the relationship and into solving the matter at hand. Secondly, your partner might start second-guessing your relationship, and for good reason.
Even if you feel like pointing out certain things that your partner fails to do, don’t start with this phrase. It is something too generic and cancels all the things and times your partner did do something for you. Not to mention it is an open invitation to fight and play ping-pong with what one did and did not do throughout your relationship.
Instead of accusing them of failing you or not being completely involved in your relationship, as you might consider yourself to be, try focusing on the things that both of you do to make things work. When thinking about the positive aspects and starting a discussion with a compliment, it’s easier to insert a small complaint.