Let’s face it, we all say things we shouldn’t from time to time. But there are some phrases that can ruin relationships.
Here’s a list of 8 seemingly innocuous phrases that you should steer clear of in your relationship (and what to say instead).
8 Phrases That Ruin Relationships
1. “I don’t care”
This one makes me laugh (and also cringe as I recall myself saying this in the past). No, it’s not actually funny, but there is something slightly comical about how loaded this phrase truly is.
“I don’t care” actually means one of a few possibilities (none of which are good):
1) I care a lot but it seems pointless to talk to you about it, you won’t get it
2) I want you to figure it out and read my mind
3) I want to test you to see if you accept my bullshit answer
4) Can we stop talking already?
If you tend to say, “I don’t care”, see if you can check in with yourself in those moments and figure out what you are trying to do with that comment. What do you hope will happen?
If your partner says this, get curious and respond with something like, “so do you actually not care about this, or is it something else? “
2. “I’m sorry you feel that way”
When you slow right down and think about this phrase, it actually doesn’t make sense to say that you are sorry for how someone feels. Are their feeling something to apologize for? Did you make them feel that way? Are you actually sorry, or are you just trying to move the conversation along? (And if you truly did something wrong, you should consider saying something more direct like, “I am so sorry for what I did/said, I can see how upset you are about it”).
When you say “I am sorry you feel that way,” it lands like a bullshit dismissal of emotions. As if you are saying, “whelp, sucks to be you, but it’s not how I feel.“
When you use the word “sorry”, make sure to be clear that you are using it in it’s most genuine form, and leave all the patronizing, dismissive, and invalidating bits out.
3. “You always/never…”
No better way to throw gasoline on a fire than to make a generalizing statement. The problem with these words is that they are simply not true. No one always does something, or never does another. You can almost always (HA, there it is) find an exception that proves your partner wrong.
“You never do the dishes!” (Probably just not true…I hope).
“You always act like that!” (There are probably many times they didn’t act like that).
Simply put, using absolute language is inflammatory and usually causes people to get defensive. The focus of the argument shifts to proving your partner wrong rather than getting through the original problem.
(BTW, this FREE training video explains how to get though any argument. Click to learn more)
4. “I’m fine”
Are you really? Like, actually?
How many times have you barked “I’m FINE” to your partner while everyone in the house clearly knows you aren’t. Or better yet, you passively let “I’m fine” roll off your tongue in a snarky way, sending clear messages that you are indeed not fine and your partner better not think for a second that you are!
This comes right down to assertiveness. We can’t expect anyone else (partners included) to read our minds and know what we want/feel/need. Annoying right? Wouldn’t life just be easier if they could?
You have to take responsibility for expressing what’s going on for you by using clear communication. Try these alternatives:
“I don’t really want to talk about it right now, can we talk later?”
“I’m feeling frustrated but not sure how to communicate what’s going on right now.”
“No, I’m not fine. I’m upset but I can feel myself pulling back and I don’t really want to talk.”
5. “Ya, but…”
Hurry up and shut up. Harsh, but true.
Saying “Ya, but” is a way of faking agreement with your partner, and then moving on to what you actually think. “Ya, ok, are you done…this is what I really think.”
Whenever you say the word “but”, you essentially delete whatever you said before that. For example, “I really like your outfit BUT… ” … and everyone holds their breath for what comes next.
“I like you, but…”
“I understand what you are saying, but…”
“I enjoy having sex with you, but…”
See how that works? We don’t even have to know what’s coming next to feel that the person is going to get shut down. Now, of course you are going to have different opinions (this is fine), but try not to negate what your partner says when you express yours.
2 Tips. for this: 1) Add reflection and empathy, and 2) use the word “and” instead of “but.”
“I can tell that you’re upset that I surfed on my phone all evening instead of coming to bed with you. I totally get that and I have felt that way too before. AND I think what’s going on for me is that I need some zone-out time after the kids go to bed.”
See how it takes the sting away?
6. “Why do you feel that way?” (judgemental tone)
Feelings are facts, my friend.
This is the mantra I tell every single couple I work with and has been a foundational principle in my own relationship and family.
Feelings are not up for debate. Feelings are a person’s emotional experience, their automatic felt sense, their reaction, their information source. Feelings give us incredible intel about our relationships (and ourselves). We must welcome them and allow them to teach us.
It’s almost guaranteed that you and your partner will have different emotional reactions in different situations. Neither of you are wrong. Or right for that matter. Emotions just are. They are just there. Let them be.
Asking “why do you feel that way” can invalidate your partner’s experience, or make them feel irrational or unsupported. It also implies that they need to change their emotions. Oftentimes this question comes from the asker’s discomfort with their partner’s emotion, as if to say “Yikes, put those feelings away, they are too intense and I can’t handle them.”
Instead, focus more on hearing and validating your partner rather than understanding WHY they feel a certain way. Do more reflecting and less questioning. Paraphrase or summarize and give your partner a chance to clarify even more.
“Can you help me understand more about how you feel?”
“I can see how upset you are and I really want to make sure I fully get it.”
Building understanding through empathy (rather than interrogation) allows for more peaceful and connected communication.
7. “What’s your problem?”
This reminds me of myself as a teenager. Sound familiar? But we don’t really want to communicate like teens, do we? Didn’t work then, doesn’t work now.
“What’s your PROBLEM?” feels good to say sometimes because it’s a bit of a jab! They have the problem, they are the problem. This is much more comfortable than taking responsibility or even asking compassionate questions. It’s safer to attack, speak harshly, and disconnect.
But anyone who has ever said this to another person knows it doesn’t land well. The person becomes defensive and the conversation usually explodes.
Now, I am all for bringing attention to the elephant in the room. If my partner is clearly agitated but doesn’t acknowledge it, I will directly call him on it. Try pointing out what you see, with curiosity and kindness:
“Hun, you seem really annoyed this afternoon, is there something you want to talk about?”
8. You’re such a X%f*s!n5a!!!
Insert allllll the bad words.
Name calling is bad, my friends. So why do we do it even when we know better?
Swearing at your partner is usually done as a last attempt to gain control, but unfortunately it only does damage to your connection.
Swearing is actually a form of verbal abuse and is absolutely not acceptable. Name calling, put downs, or other aggressive language is a sign that you and your partner aren’t communicating well and need to seek support to get back on track.
Are you a casual swearer? (Don’t worry, I fully support the well placed and non-aggressive f-bomb). But try toning it down in your every-day language so that it becomes a little less easy to roll off your tongue. And if you swear at your partner, no matter what, you must take responsibility, apologize, and make a plan to prevent it in the future.
If you love and respect your partner (and don’t want to ruin your relationship), show them with your words.
No couple is immune to making communication mistakes, but some couples rise to the top when it comes to communication. The more you can bring awareness to your particular challenges and focus your energy there, the more connected you will be.
Looking to learn more about communication mistakes? Check out this popular post with more common mistakes.
All my best,