By Carol L. Meylan, LCSW, MBA and Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
But let's be honest... most people feel the need to express dissatisfaction or irritation
to their partner at times.
How can we do that... staying true to ourselves but not damaging the relationship in the process?
... And even daring to hope about coming to a clear resolution where everyone feels heard, eventually bringing us closer when there is a conflict?
Here are some comments that are particularly hurtful and should be avoided. These comments, especially when accompanied by an attitude of contempt are poison to a relationship.
You are literally injecting poison into your relationship if you are using this type of communication. It will permanently damage your relationship, so let's think of better ways to communicate dissatisfaction or request a change in something.
The point is, it is relatively easy to monitor your communication so that you are being honest and also being aware of an ongoing practice of creating the type of relationship you desire on a day-to-day basis.
Beware of These Four Relationship-Damaging Phrases:
1. "Chill”. Other variations are “relax”, “calm down” and “get a grip”.When you say these words to an angry or upset person, this tends to infuriate him/her and make the situation worse! Why? Because hearing “chill out/relax” from one’s partner sounds condescending and dismissive at a time when he/she really needs understanding and support.
Your partner is much more likely to actually calm down if you say:
“You seem really upset. Let’s talk about this. I want to help... or... Tell me what's going on.”
2. “You always….” or “You never….”Often when we are angry about something our partner has done more than a few times, we tend to over-generalize and lash out with “You always do this….You always think of yourself….You never think of me first…”. These global statements sound critical and judgmental and push others away. “You always” comments also put your partner on the defensive – of course he/she doesn’t "always" text while talking to you, even if it sometimes feels like he does.
Your partner will hear you much better if you simply state the problem or issue, such as:
“I notice that you are texting right now while I am talking."
Positive Response Styles
3. “This is why….”Statements such as “this is why you haven’t been successful” or “this is why you can’t save money” are harsh and hurtful and can be very damaging to a relationship. This broad statement makes the speaker seem disdainful and contemptuous of his partner, as if he is smarter and superior. No one wants to feel put-down, especially by someone who is supposed to love them.
4. “Whatever” or “Whatever You Say…”Saying “Whatever…” indicates that you are through with the conversation and don’t want to listen to your partner any more. “Whatever” is dismissive and shows a lack of interest and respect for your partner’s opinions. Dismissiveness is a close cousin to contempt, which is one of the top predictors of divorce (according to marriage expert John Gottman Ph.D).
If you are feeling exhausted by a conversation and want it to end, use Solution-Focused and Emotionally-Focused responses such, “We have a difference of opinion on this.” “Thank you for being honest and sharing your opinions, I appreciate that. Let me think about this for a while. Let's discuss it more tomorrow (later)?"
Listen to yourself when you talk to your partner to see if you use any of the negative phrases or find yourself criticizing or blaming. When you catch yourself hurling potentially damaging statements around, you can apologize and start over.
If you need more help to improve communication in your relationship, we are here to help.