They say that trust and communication are the foundation of any relationship and, turns out, the two go hand in hand. But when you’re coupled up — post-honeymoon phase — it’s easy to succumb to common long-term relationship pitfalls, like taking your partner’s feelings for granted or getting into the habit of saying things you should never say in a relationship.
“Good communication is the cornerstone to building and maintaining any healthy relationship,” says Tina Konkin, relationship counselor and founder and director of the counseling program Relationship Lifeline. “It creates a sense of intimacy that can be shared throughout a lifetime, and it’s nearly impossible for any relationship to thrive without it. Whether you would like to improve your conflict resolution or experience a deeper connection with your partner, you can achieve it through communication.”
That’s right, when you and your S.O. master the big “C,” you can achieve a plethora benefits including improved physical intimacy, reconnection, and lasting fulfillment in your relationship. But things aren’t always peaches and cream and, when disagreements happen, there are some things you should never say. Certain language can be flat out counterproductive, and damaging words can linger long after an argument is over. Ahead, two relationship experts share what to avoid saying when building a stronger bond with your beau, while giving tips on how to make tough conversations go a little smoother.
Blameful “You” Statements
Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, and Dr. Valeria Chuba, a clinical sexologist, sex educator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, says it isn’t about avoiding it, but how you do it. “Ironically, knowing how to fight is one of the best skills for a healthy relationship,” she says. “I find it very constructive when people take ownership of their feelings in an argument.” The best way to do this? She advises, “It helps to use ‘I’ statements, like ‘I feel that…’ rather than ‘You make me feel like…'” The latter can immediately put your partner on the defensive and won’t help in reaching a compromise.
Further, this proper phrasing helps make you accountable for your side of the argument. “Taking responsibility for [your] own negative communication will definitely go a long way in creating a healthy relationship,” mentions Konkin. “Also, realizing [you] can’t ‘fix’ the other person takes the frustration out of the process.” In other words, realizing you can’t change your beau but you can control your reactions can help you avoid future fights, and even give you a sense of empowerment.
Blanket “Always” & “Never” Statements
Konkin adds that avoiding “always” and “never” statements (as in, “you neverhelp out around the house”) is a cardinal rule in healthy communication. These words are usually an over-exaggeration and only serve to amplify the argument while making your partner feel unappreciated.
Instead, focus on the issue on hand. For instance, if your S.O. isn’t pulling their weight with the chores, explain why you need help and ask if the two of you can come up with a solution. This is much more productive than bringing up what they “never” or “always” do. Then, when they do what you asked, make sure to take notice and thank them for it — you might be surprised how a little recognition can go a long way.
Anything Resembling Sex Shaming
“One of the most destructive things you can say to your partner is any statement that shames them for their sexuality,” points out Dr. Chuba. “Sexual shame has long been a way to control behavior of both men and women, but when wielded in an intimate relationship, it can be especially volatile.”
What’s more, mocking physical appearance, sexual desires, or performance should all be completely off-limits. “This type of behavior can shut down trust and open communication for years to come,” she continues. “I have many clients whose moments of experiencing sexual or body shaming by their partners had left them unable to lead fulfilling sex lives for years.”
Derogatory Or Hurtful Names
To that, Dr. Chuba adds, “Using insults […] can have devastating consequences.” Konkin agrees that couples should “never call each other names or attack a person’s dignity.” This type of behavior is not only counter-productive, it can cause permanent damage to the bond you’ve built.
If you need time to cool down before the conversation gets toxic, Dr. Chuba suggests calling a temporary truce so you and your S.O. can regroup. “Partners who are interested in conflict resolution tend to respect each other’s needs and boundaries.” She adds, “Those who are invested in perpetuating a fighting dynamic will often resist the drawing of healthy boundaries and will maintain a more adversarial, rather than collaborative stance.”
Not Saying Anything
That’s right: When there’s an underlying issue, skirting the argument can be just as destructive as a fiery confrontation. “One of the biggest things I see in couples who have drifted apart is a lack of communication,” explains Dr. Chuba. “Often it’s the things that are left unsaid, even more than the things that are said, that have the biggest impact on a relationship.”
Konkin notes that avoidance may be a consequence of toxic communication, but it can lead to a rift in the long run. “Drifting or complete communication cut-off is usually because couples don’t feel safe communicating, and not because they don’t know how to communicate,” she says. “Unresolved hurts expressed with words or actions creates the first signs of drifting.” In short, the closest couples aren’t the ones who never disagree; they’re the ones who know how to argue constructively, listen respectfully, then come up with a fair compromise.
This article originally appeared on The Zoe Report on January 12, 2019