Divorce isn’t something that happens overnight; it’s never one big, blowout fight that ends a marriage. Instead, the road to splitsville is often paved with eye rolls, the silent treatment, and poor communication in general.
Below, divorce attorneys and marriage therapists share the most damaging things you can say in a marriage ― and what you should say to your spouse instead.
1. “You’re being ridiculous.”
You might think she’s overreacting at being passed over for a job ― and she might think you’re crazy for over-analyzing that awkward moment at a dinner party earlier in the night. But in healthy a relationship, you should try your very hardest to understand your partner’s perspective. Dismissing their feelings as “ridiculous” runs counter to that, said Leslie Petruk, a marriage counselor based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“When your partner doesn’t feel like they’re allowed to communicate their thoughts and feelings openly, it leads to resentment and decay that wears away your connection,” she said. “Instead of demeaning your partner’s feelings, seek to understand why they feel or believe what they do. Say: ‘Help me understand why you are reacting so strongly.’”
2. “I don’t care anymore.”
A clear marker on the pathway to divorce is when one or both spouses become disinterested in the actions of the other, said Christian Denmon, a Florida-based divorce attorney. Going so far as to tell your partner you’ve checked out speaks volumes.
“It’s such a blunt way of conveying disinterest,” he said. “A better option is to take a deep breath and decide what you’re really feeling. If you truly don’t care anymore, that’s a problem and counseling should be sought. But if you’re just tired of fighting, make it clear and table the conversation.”
3. ¨You never help out around the house.”
You’re in the danger zone whenever you let the words “always” or “never” slip into a conversation with your spouse, whatever the issue may be, said Antonio Borrello, a psychologist based in Detroit, Michigan.
“These absolutes blame your partner for yesterday’s problems, today’s problem and those that have yet to occur,” he said. “It’s often more focused on attacking your spouse’s character than on finding a solution. Instead, stay in the present and focus on understanding why your spouse does what she does.”
4. “If you hadn’t forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning, I wouldn’t have to yell at you.”
Dry cleaning is a placeholder here: The issue you’re arguing about could be anything ― forgetting about a parent-teacher conference or not acting fast enough on an apartment up for rent. Whatever the issue, blaming your partner for your reaction is bound to provoke them and cause resentment, said Petruk.
“It leads to defensiveness or just shutting down,” she said. “A better way to communicate is to name how you felt rather than accusing your partner. Say something like, ′A part of me felt hurt that you forgot to get my laundry because I’m feeling anxious about my presentation tomorrow and it’s important I have my clothes ready.’”
5. Nothing at all.
Saying nothing at all ― or stonewalling your partner ― can cause more damage to your marriage than any statement on this list. Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws from the interaction or argument, closing themselves off to what the other spouse has to say.
“Stonewalling your spouse cuts communication off at the knees,” said Karen A. Covy, a Chicago, Illinois-based divorce attorney. “It promotes misunderstandings and prevents you from resolving whatever issues you may be having. It can also be a sign of contempt ― which is the death knell for a marriage.”
Instead of putting up a wall, Covy suggests taking a direct approach by discussing what’s bothering you. “It may not be a pleasant or comfortable conversation, but unlike saying nothing, it might actually help resolve your issues.”
6. ¨I want a divorce.¨
Did you think we’d make it through this list without mentioning the D word? It seems obvious, but threatening divorce when you don’t really want one chips away at the foundation of your marriage, said Covy.
“If it’s a threat and not a carefully thought-out decision, it can move your marriage down a road you might not be ready to take,” she said. “If you don’t really want to split up, don’t say you do! If you’re angry and frustrated with your spouse, instead of threatening divorce, try going for a walk or going to the gym. Clear your head. When you come back, you’ll be in a much better place to talk.”
7. “I don’t need to tell you where I went.”
Your spouse shouldn’t need to keep tabs on your whereabouts at all hours of the day, but there also shouldn’t be a need for secrecy, said Denmon.
8. “Why can’t you be more like him?¨
Stop making comparisons to other people’s husbands or wives, said Covy. (Your coworker Maryann’s husband may book tables at the newest restaurants every week and send huge flower arrangements for her birthday, but you aren’t married to Maryann’s husband.)
“Belittling your spouse by comparing him or her to another man or woman is a low blow,” she said. “No man or woman wants to hear that you think some other guy or gal is better and that’s especially true for men. It’s emasculating.”
Instead of making comparisons, try appreciating what your spouse does do for you. It might just motivate him or her to do more of the same, said Covy. “Really, pointing out what your spouse doesn’t or can’t do for you will definitely not make him do what you want.”
9. “I wish I never met you.¨
Few phrases are more devastating ― or damaging ― than this one, said Borrello.
“It’s especially hurtful because it implies that your partner is to blame for every undesirable thing that’s happened in your life since you first met,” he said. “It suggests the bad far outweighs the good in your life together and that it’s all your spouse’s fault.”
Before going for the jugular and letting this one slip out, consider what part you played in the current state of your relationship. “Always consider the current situation or circumstances and try to understand how you contributed to the problem,” Borello said. “In a relationship, you have to stay focused on the present.”