Sharing relationship concerns with your spouse requires a very deft hand. Some of us are better at communicating complaints than others — only an amateur, for instance, would dare to say “you’re overreacting!” in the middle of an argument.
But it’s always a good idea to brush up on your communication skills. Below, relationship experts share seven phrases you should nix from your vocabulary and what you should say instead.
1. “I think you need to calm down.”
It can feel belittling and condescending when a partner raises his voice at you. But it’s equally condescending to tell him to “just calm down” in response, said Andra Brosh, a Los Angeles-based psychologist.
“This phrase aggravates a situation much more than it helps,” she said. “Telling someone to calm down is infantilizing and it sends the message that your partner’s feelings are intolerable to you.”
When your partner is upset, remind yourself that what he needs most in that moment is validation and compassion, Brosh said.
“It’s better to say something like, ‘I’m so sorry you’re so upset — let’s just sit down for a minute and breathe together’ or ‘I want to understand why you’re so upset but it’s hard to understand when you yell,'” she said.
2. “You don’t ever help out with the kids.”
If you and your partner have kids, there are going to be times where one of you feels like you’re doing more of the hands-on, day-to-day parenting. While it’s important you tell your partner she needs to step up her parenting game, don’t be blunt about it, said Detroit-based relationship coach Lisa Schmidt.
“Rather than saying something like, ‘You don’t ever help with the kids,’ try to focus on the positive,” she said. “Tell your wife, ‘Seth just loves it when you’re there to pick him up from practice. He really lights up when he sees your car.”
Then sort out the logistics of pickups and drop-offs on a weekly basis, Schmidt suggested. “Set aside 15 minutes each Sunday to plan the week, so both parents are getting in time with the kids.”
3. “You never listen to me.”
Actually, don’t ever use the word never.
“It’s a way of shutting your partner out while leaving them feeling hopeless. It creates a sense of finality which leaves no room for further discussion,” Brosh said.
Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” for example, Brosh said it’s better to say something along the lines of, “When you’re on your cellphone during conversations I feel like you’re not listening to me,” or ‘”There are times when I’m not sure you’re really listening to me.'”
4. “Nevermind, I’ll just do it myself.”
This phrase is just as dismissive and damaging as the example above, said Schmidt.
“When you say ‘nevermind,’ you’re rejecting your spouse and not allowing him to listen to what you need,” she said. “But a relationship is a partnership, not a personal platform to martyr yourself. Don’t diminish the talents, input and assistance your spouse can bring to any given situation.”
Instead, say, “I could really use your help with (insert problem). That would be such a time-saver or load off my back,” Schmidt said.
5. “I’m not happy…I want a divorce.”
If you have any interest in keeping your marriage alive, idle threats of divorce won’t fly, said Anne Crowley, an Austin, Texas-based psychologist.
“If you don’t have plans to initiate a divorce, threats like this weaken the foundation of the relationship. It creates uncertainty and insecurities,” she said. “If you are not happy in the marriage, it’s OK to say that. But also think: what do I want to do about it?
If the answer to that question is, “I want to make this marriage work,” opt for a more constructive approach — one that doesn’t include the “D” word, Crowley said.
“It might be better to say, ‘I’d like to improve our marriage, will you go to therapy with me?'”
6. “Is there someone else?”
You’re spending less and less time together, you’re rarely intimate and you began to wonder if there might be someone else in your partner’s life. While you need to address your concerns, you need to do it carefully and avoid jumping to conclusions, said Crowley.
“Asking directly if there’s someone else is a harmful phrase because it challenges the integrity of your partner and brings trust, respect and fidelity into question.”
Plus, the accusation will likely be met with disbelief or anger from your partner or cause her to withdraw from the conversation, Crowley said.
“A better way to express this thought is to ask for the reassurance. Say, ‘I know things have been different between us but you and I are still in this together, right?'” she explained. “It gives your partner the opportunity to give you what you need — reassurance — instead of pushing her farther away.”
7. “I hate it when you do that.”
It may drive you up the wall when he leaves stray beard shavings in the sink or she seems more interested in her phone than you on date night. But try to keep your composure when you tell your partner how much it bothers you, said Schmidt.
“Couples need to be mindful of the use of words like hate — it has such a strong connotation,” she said.”Instead, reframe what you dislike to something involving praise for what really helps you out” — like cleaning up the sink or actively listening when you’ve finally managed to squeeze in a date night.
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