Therapists have seen and heard it all: the good, the bad and the ugly of relationships. Through their years of professional experience, they’re able to pinpoint the language that brings couples together and the language that pushes them apart.
We asked couples therapists which phrases they personally never or rarely (hey, even the pros aren’t perfect!) use in their own relationships. Here’s what they told us:
1. ‘You always ... ’ or ‘You never ... ’
Several of our experts said they steer clear of hyperbolic blanket statements that begin “you always” or “you never.”
“While it’s true that I’ll never smoke a cigar and I always fasten my seat belt, when it comes to interpersonal behaviors — listening, arguing, being defensive, being kind, taking things personally — ‘always’ and ‘never’ tend to make us shut down,” Winifred M. Reilly — a marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California and author of “It Takes One to Tango” — told HuffPost.
“You’re pretty much guaranteed to be told, ‘That’s not true. There was that one time ... ’” she said. “Then you’re in more of a debate than a conversation.”
To get your point across in a gentler and more impactful way, try subbing in the word “sometimes” in place of “always” or “never.”
“As in, ‘sometimes, you don’t listen to me in a way that shows that you’re interested,’” Reilly said. “The goal is, after all, to talk about how to have a better life together, not just point out each other’s faults.”
2. ‘You make me feel X.’
No matter what emotion you insert here — sad, angry or guilty, just to name a few — this kind of language is something that sex therapist Jesse Kahn tries to avoid.
“You can say, ‘I feel guilty when’ or ‘I feel ashamed when,’ but no one else is making you feel anything, and it’s unfair to put that on anyone,” Kahn, director of the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City, told HuffPost.
Plus, he said, it can be “healing and empowering” to take responsibility for your own emotional responses.
Similarly, Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Gayane Aramyan said she avoids using blame-y “you” statements (e.g. “You’re so inconsiderate”) in her relationship. She’s found that they make the other person defensive, which stymies any productive conversation.
“I express how I feel and what my experience was of the situation,” she told HuffPost.
3. ‘Well, then maybe we shouldn’t be together.’
When we’re feeling overwhelmed with hurt or anger toward our partner, it’s easy to lash out and say things we don’t mean. In more extreme cases, you might even threaten to break things off with this person — a move Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Abigail Makepeace strongly discourages.
“Unless you are truly contemplating ending the relationship, this tactic should never be used,” Makepeace told HuffPost. “These types of threats erode your partner’s sense of safety and build resentment.”
And if you make these kinds of declarations again and again, your partner will become desensitized to them, Makepeace said. This can affect your communication and connection moving forward.
4. ‘You should do this.’
Sean Davis, a marriage and family therapist in Roseville, California, told HuffPost he “rarely, if ever, makes absolute statements” about his wife’s choices. Other variations might include: “You shouldn’t do that” or “That’s a bad idea.”
“Statements like this imply that I know what is best for her and therefore have the right to dictate her behavior. It is disempowering and undermines her autonomy,” said Davis, founder of The Davis Group Counseling and Wellness Services. “It also sets the discussion up for a fight if she disagrees, as her only possible response is to say I’m wrong.”
“'Always’ and ‘never’ tend to make us shut down.”
Instead, he first checks in with his wife to see if she wants his opinion on the matter or just wants him to listen.
“If she wants my opinion, I will preface it with a qualifier such as, ‘I think ... ,’ ‘It seems to me like ... ’ or ‘If I were in your shoes ... .’” Davis said. “Proposing my thoughts as tentative allows me to state my opinion while reassuring her that she can disagree without the disagreement threatening our relationship.”
5. ‘If you loved me, you would ...’
When you use this setup with a partner, you’re behaving in a manipulative way — whether you mean to or not. For that reason, Kahn is not a fan of these kinds of statements.
“You are essentially weaponizing your love, relationship and connection,” he said. “You may not be intentionally trying to manipulate someone, but it will have that impact and outcome.”
Instead, he recommends “getting curious about why the person doesn’t want to do the thing you want.” Then consider whether it’s reasonable for them to decline and use it as an opportunity to practice taking “no” for an answer.
On a similar note, Aramyan said she avoids language like, “If you don’t do this, then ... ” with her husband.
“I don’t threaten or put ultimatums in my relationship,” she said. “I think that ultimatums are very serious, and unless you mean what you say, there is no point in saying it.”
6. ‘No one will ever love you as much as I do.’
At first glance, this may sound kind of romantic to some. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see this statement has toxic undertones. Makepeace called it “a clear attempt to destabilize and create fear in your partner.”
“The implicit message is, ‘Don’t ever leave me or mess up because you will never find better or be loved more,’” she explained. “At its core, this is simply not true. If you can see how wonderful your partner is, then why wouldn’t someone else?”
“You may not be intentionally trying to manipulate someone, but it will have that impact and outcome.”
Plus, if your partner is only sticking around out of fear, “you will never feel the safety you are seeking to achieve with this comment,” Makepeace said. “True feelings of trust and safety are only built through secure and honest connection.”
7. ‘You need to calm down.’
Davis said he tries to avoid telling his wife how to feel about a given situation. That means not saying things like, “Just stop worrying about that” or “You’re being too dramatic.”
“Any of those things just lead to a fight,” he said. “Instead, I just try to listen, validate and let the emotions run their course, trying to remember that I’ll probably need the same from her soon enough.”
8. ‘My ex never would have done that.’
It’s natural to compare your current partner to a former one in a moment of frustration or disappointment, Makepeace said. But verbalizing this to your partner can be damaging. And keep in mind: When you’re emotional, you may not have the clarity to see you’re romanticizing your ex.
“It is important to remember that there is a clear reason, or set of reasons, you are no longer in this past relationship,” Makepeace said.
“More importantly, there are hopefully a myriad of reasons you are with your current partner. The act of comparison between your current partner and past partner can be especially hurtful, as it can feel like a negation of the good, care and safety in your current relationship.”