Marriage is a lifetime commitment, and like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. There are likely certain things you and your spouse disagree on, or topics that just seem to strike a nerve. But beyond the specific frustrations that get under your skin, marriage counselors say there are certain things you should never say to your spouse, even if they reflect how you really feel. In most cases, you'll find that there are better ways to articulate what you mean to help navigate a challenging situation. Read on to find out what phrases and questions you should avoid.
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"Maybe we should just get a divorce."
It should probably go without saying, but throwing around the word "divorce" in conversation with your spouse is unwise.
"What is a predictor of divorce? Talking about divorce! In the heat of an argument, threatening to leave the relationship is manipulative and hurtful," Caroline Madden, PhD, author and licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Best Life. "The first couple of times you do this in an argument, you get the result you want—you strike fear in the heart of your partner that she or he will be abandoned."
After that, however, your spouse will likely start wondering what life would be like without a relationship—and without you. Your spouse "starts to invest less, care less, and check out of the relationship," Madden says. "This isn't done because she or he doesn't love you; it is simple self-preservation."
Colleen Wenner, LMHC, MCAP, LPC, founder and clinical director of New Heights Counseling&Consulting, LLC, adds that by saying "divorce," you're taking hope out of your relationship. "Without hope, you've communicated your relationship is not worth working on," she notes.
"Remember you married your spouse for better or worse," Wenner adds. "Your spouse has made a commitment to you and you need to respect that. Don't use threats to manipulate your spouse to get what you want. Instead, try using empathy and understanding."
'You always/never do this."
Using absolutes like "always" and "never" can be isolating for your spouse, which is why you should avoid using them when you're trying to get your point across.
"This type of statement is hurtful because it implies that your spouse is incompetent," Wenner explains. "You're saying that you know better than your spouse does, and if he or she doesn't agree with you, then he or she must be stupid or weak-willed."
These accusations are also often untrue and "shut down communication," Talal Alsaleem, PsyD, licensed marriage and family therapist, explains. "When couples speak in absolutes, they end up arguing about the exaggeration instead of getting to the bottom of the issue they are having problems with," he says.
Charese L. Josie, licensed clinical social worker, and owner and founder of CJ Counseling and Consulting Services, adds that this also leaves little room for negotiation or compassion. "It also tells your partner that you do not acknowledge any strengths or efforts from them," she says.
Josie suggests that you frame your concerns differently. "A great start-up for this is to use 'I' statements followed by a feeling word such as 'I feel overwhelmed and could use your help with (insert a specific action request),'" she advises.
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"You're disappointing me."
In all aspects of life, it's common to feel shame when you believe you've let someone down. The same can be said of a marriage, where the relationship is supposed to be balanced.
"Every marriage can have disappointments ranging from him not helping out around the house to her being too tired to have sex, and everything in between," Laura Amador, certified relationship coach, tells Best Life. "Many of us think that the way to address these problems is through verbalizing how they make us feel and what we need our spouse to do to fix it. The problem with this approach is that it often creates the opposite effect."
According to Amador, you should verbalize your concerns if your needs aren't being met, but there are respectful "noncritical" ways to communicate those feelings. "If someone expects the best from us, we naturally want to live up to that expectation," she says. "Using this knowledge, we can inspire the desired results by appreciating what they are doing right and encouraging what we would love to see in the relationship."
"My ex wouldn't do this."
Comparisons in marriage are a big no-no, experts say—and when it comes to your past relationship, they should be avoided at all costs. "Never bring up your ex in any conversation—it's very unfair to compare your exes with your spouse," Katina Tarver, MA, life and relationship coach of The Pleasant Relationship, tells Best Life.
Brenda Wade, PhD, clinical psychologist and chief advisor to Online for Love, also cites exes as a topic to avoid. If you have trauma resulting from previous relationships, you can express that to your spouse, she says, but there's "no need to go into details." As she explains, "Good or bad, your spouse is not interested in any of your incidents with your ex."
Tarver recommends building your spouse up rather than tearing them down and saying that your ex would have done something differently. "Highlight their strengths, and if you wish to give feedback, give it to them respectfully, not by demeaning them," she says. "Constant belittling will hamper their confidence and your relationship, too!"
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"Why are you doing that?" and "What were you thinking?"
"You" can be a tricky word in relationships, especially when it's used as part of an accusation. Josie recommends avoiding the word all together, as it can sound like a "blaming word" and make your partner feel like they have to defend themselves.
The same goes for phrases that question your spouse's judgment, such as, "What were you thinking?" Not only does come off like you're reprimanding your partner—it isolates them, Craig Miller, psychologist and co-founder of Academia Labs LLC, explains.
"This questioning, however the tone you say it, implies that your spouse was not clearly thinking when they did something, and you put the blame solely on them," he says. "This also undermines their ability to think clearly as you are questioning their ability to understand things logically. Hence, this gaslights your spouse into thinking that they cannot do anything [right] and they are not cannot decide for themselves."
You will inadvertently knock your partner's confidence, as they now believe doing something on their own will end up being wrong and disappointing you. Josie recommends approaching the situation differently in order to get to the real route of the issue when asking about a partner's intentions. "Be intentional when communicating by saying what you really mean," she says. "This can be reframed with a specific action request or offer your support to do it with your partner."