Do actions truly speak louder than words? Of course, actions are crucial, and words without action are often empty promises. But when it comes to maintaining healthy and sustainable relationships, the way you speak to your partners is just as important.
The ability to handle disagreements in a relationship is a key prerequisite to long-term success, and that skill is reliant on clear and effective communication. If you were to step back and observe your arguments or conversations with your partner, would you wish you had phrased things differently?
Good communication begins with mindfulness, and when you become mindful of the language you’re using with your partner, you’ll be surprised (and pleased) to see the impact it has on your relationship. We recommend starting by removing these six words and phrases from your vocabulary.
1. “You always” or “You never”
It’s Psychology 101: Telling someone they “always” or “never” do something is never going to land you where you want to go. Using extreme words like these is likely to cause a defensive reaction from your partner and will take the focus away from the issue at hand.
Replace it with “I love when you … ” Example: Instead of telling your partner they never invite you out with their friends, pick the time that they did invite you out and tell them how much you loved it. Everyone wants to be praised, and a person will be much more likely to do more of the things that make you happy than less of the things that don’t. If you truly feel like they never do these things, try phrasing it as “I would love it if you … ”
For many of us, “always” is a common reflex when it feels like our partner is continuously doing something that hurts our feelings. Next time you are in this situation, draw their attention to the way their actions made you feel. Example: “It hurts my feelings when you interrupt me,” instead of “you always interrupt me.”
2. “I’m sorry you feel that way”
Telling your partner “I’m sorry you feel that way” is like a half-hearted apology. If you want to apologize, apologize for the thing that they are angry about, not for the fact that they feel upset. And don’t get me wrong—you should always try to understand how your partner is feeling and where they’re coming from, but the apology should be about taking ownership for what you did.
Replace it with “I’m sorry that I … ” This simple apology takes ownership for what it is you are actually arguing about rather than making how your partner feels the subject of discussion.
There are so many things that come into play when forming a genuine apology, but the #1 thing to keep in mind here is to take the ego out of it. Be mindful of your tone, and make sure you’re focusing on the deeper issue rather than just apologizing to end the argument. Be clear about how you will change your behavior moving forward and, of course, make sure to follow through with those actions!
3. “I don’t care”
Let’s be honest: You do care. And if you don’t, maybe you should not be in this relationship. Being able to voice your opinions and tell your partner how you feel is extremely important. Openness in relationships is a skill that we can grow over time, and the more open you are with your partner emotionally, the healthier the relationship will be. Learn to verbalize what you are feeling rather than dismissing things that will likely come back up down the road.
4. “Relax” or “Calm down”
Would you want to be told to relax when you’re upset about something? Nope, didn’t think so. This is one of those phrases that is so ingrained into all of our vocabularies that it can become instinctual to tell someone to calm down, simply because you do not understand where their emotions are coming from. If your partner is upset, do not jump to the conclusion that they are overreacting. Instead of telling them to calm down, work to stay calm and rational yourself, and you will be much more successful in helping them communicate what is causing their anger.
Replace it with “I want to understand where you’re coming from. Can you explain to me why you’re feeling this way?” Sometimes it really is as simple as that. Again, the best way to handle this situation is by staying calm and showing your partner that you want to understand how they feel and that you are ready to listen to what they are saying.
There is no situation in which name-calling is acceptable in relationships. If you are getting too upset or you feel tempted to say something unproductive or hurtful, take a minute to cool down before continuing the conversation. Calling your partner names is only going to escalate things and will likely minimize anything productive you do have to say. Name-calling can cause long-term damage in relationships and often leads to a loss of respect and trust as well as other toxic behaviors.
6. “You can’t do this/that”
How can you guarantee someone will do something? Tell them they can’t do it. Trying to control your partner is a lose-lose situation because the only person you can control in a relationship is yourself. If there is something your partner is doing that you do not want them to do, you need to first think about why that thing bothers you. Focus on communicating how it makes you feel instead of trying to control the situation.
That said, every healthy relationship needs boundaries, and if your partner is doing something that you are not comfortable with, it is important that you set that boundary with them. If a clear boundary is being crossed continuously, it can be damaging to you and to the relationship itself. This is the point when a relationship becomes unhealthy, and it is better to walk away than to attempt to control the other person(s).