Even though the ability to be open and honest with your partner is a technically good thing, there are some thoughts you really should keep to yourself and not say to your partner. The reason being that saying certain things to your partner could cause damage to the foundation of the relationship—the type of damage that’s especially challenging (though not impossible!) to come back from.
Known of the most legendary relationship experts of the 20th century, Dr. John Gottman, and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, conducted numerous studies on couples, specifically focusing on their communication methodology and how key markers were high indicators of a future divorce. Through their work, John Gottman found that four specific behaviors—Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling—“are so predictive of killing a relationship, he gave named them using them an apocalyptic reference—the Four Horsemen,” explains Jonathan Shippey, LMFT, a Certified Gottman Therapist and Master Trainer in Louisville, KY, specializing in intensive couples therapy and workshops for military families.
“Dr. Gottman found that if people engaged in these behaviors in a conversation, it would degrade rapidly, and if couples experience enough degraded conversations, the result will be a degraded relationship over time,” Shippey elborates. “Of the four, contempt is the most potent,” he explains, and notes that Dr. Gottman refers to its use as the “sulfuric acid on the fabric of love”. In fact, as Dr. Gottman’s research has proven, “Contempt is one of the biggest predictors of divorce,” adds Mike McNulty, Ph. D., a Certified Gottman Therapist and Master Trainer with the Chicago Relationship Center.
However, no matter where you and your partner are currently in your relationship, “People have the ability to repair in the aftermath of betrayal,” says Certified Gottman Therapist, clinical psychologist and organization consultant, Karen Bridbord, Ph. D. “People can transcend deep hurts to transform their partnerships for the better.”
And rethinking how you communicate with your partner, so you can break any patterns of negativity, is one of the best ways to start! What’s important to remember is that, “Behind every complaint/criticism that your partner makes, there is a longing,” says Dr. Bridbord. Your job is to “Figure out what the longing is and see if you can fulfill it.”
This expert advice from three Certified Gottman Therapists on the 12 things you should never say to your partner will help you improve your communication skills as a couple, so your relationship can benefit as a result.
12 Things You Should Never Say to Your Partner
1. “I should never have married you.”
“We want to hear that our partners would marry us again and again,” Dr. Bridbord says, which is why this is so painful for your partner to hear. “It is a statement that undermines the covenant that was created when you committed to the partnership,” she explains, “and creates deep resentment and feelings of insecurity” that can be incredibly challenging to repair.
Related: Here Are the Four Horsemen Behaviors Coined by John Gottman That Will Ruin Your Marriage—Plus, How to Avoid Them
2. “You…”, “You always…”, “You never…”
“‘You,’ ‘You always,’ and ‘You never’ statements tend to come off as blaming or critical when a partner is trying to express an honest complaint or concern,” says Dr. McNulty. “An example of a ‘You’ statement is, ‘You always forget to take out the trash,’ or ‘You never think of me.’” However, starting with “You” only emphasizes differences and is not a proactive, reparative approach, which is why “I” statements are a better approach. “People who own their feelings and needs with ‘I’ statements communicate their complaints or concerns with their partners in a healthy manner,” Dr. McNulty explains. “An example of healthier communication with an ‘I’ statement is, ‘I feel frustrated when you forget to take out the trash.’” Communicating in this way will make your partner more receptive to the information you’re sharing, while still allowing you to express your concerns openly.
3. “I’m no longer attracted to you.”
“This is one that is very hard for people to overcome, even if it was not something that was intended,” says Dr. Bridbord, which is why it can be such a damaging thing to say. “We human beings have a very difficult time being told that we are unattractive and then believing that our partner didn’t mean it. It can really stop sex in its tracks for long periods of time,” she explains, “and it is a hard one to repair.”
4. “You are such a slob.”
This type of statement is criticism in the form of name-calling, which is damaging to relationships. “Instead, ask for what you need with gentleness,” Shippey says. A better approach would be rephrasing your wishes gently but clearly by saying something like, “Would you please put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher tonight before you go to bed?” he suggests.
5. “Help me to understand why??!!” (with an eye-roll or sneer)
“This is another statement where the language looks correct, but the tone and the nonverbal communications makes the person asking the question to come off as superior or disgusted,” Dr. McNulty says. “If the question is asked with an honest, open, curious tone, it is fine because the person asking is really trying to understand. If it is asked with contempt, the person asking is expressing disgust and/or superiority, and most likely does not want to know the answer,” he explains, which can further increase tension and distance in your relationship.
6. “Here you go again! You always ruin every dinner out!”
Going global with your criticism and applying it in sweeping generalities doesn’t give your partner much insight as to where you’re coming from or how they can avoid repeating it in the future. To get more on the same page, work on improving your communication in the relationship. “Make a specific, temporary request instead,” Shippey suggests. For example,“Tonight when we go out with my brother and his wife, please don’t bring up politics,” is much more clear cut.
“One partner typically says this to the other when they cannot believe what their partner wants, needs, or believes,” Dr. McNulty says. But “This statement is contemptuous: The tone is very negative and indicates a sense of superiority or disgust. The partner uses the correct language to convey a sense of interest, but in a sarcastic, incredulous manner.” This doesn’t work, he explains, because “The other partner immediately feels defense.” That’s, in part, why “Dr. John Gottman says that each time we use contempt with our partners, it is like ‘pouring acid on love,’” he says.
8. “Why can’t you be more like her/him?”
“Negative comparisons of one’s partner to others creates insecurity and hurt between people,” says Dr. Bridbord. “They may feel that they can never live up to some imagined other and/or that they are unworthy. Or, they may just get really angry and decide to check out.” Ultimately, “Negative comparisons are highly unproductive and erode trust in relationships.”
9. “You know what your problem is? You’re just selfish.”
Placing the problem within your partner is an especially damaging form of criticism, says Shippey, that can breed insecurity or disdain in your partner. “Instead, complain without blame,” he suggests, by saying something like, “I was surprised to see you ate all the leftovers. Please check with me before doing that again.”
10. “I feel you…”
“Sometimes, ‘I feel you statements’ are people’s attempts to use ‘I’ statements, but they are actually ‘You’ statements in disguise,” Dr. McNulty explains, which is why this type of dialogue should be carefully monitored. “For example, a statement like, ‘I feel like you never remember to take out that trash and I feel like you just don’t care,’ still blames the other person and attributes negative intent to them,” he elaborates, and “People tend to get defensive around statements that come off as critical. Using soft startup is a much better approach.” He recommends trying this method: When making a complaint, say ‘I feel, about what, and I need.’ Use ‘I’ statements to discuss your feelings and needs, and try to have a receptive tone when you ask questions or when you are in conflict with your partner.” And lastly, “Be ready to say ‘I am sorry,’ and try again when you fail to do so, because we all do. Good relationships are mostly built on repair because we are all human,” he reminds us.
11. “Clearly, you let people down all the time.”
“Avoid using information that your partner shared with you about other conflicts in their lives against them when you argue,” cautions Dr. Bridbord. “A sure fire way to damage the trust between you is by using your knowledge of some vulnerability that they have against them when you are in conflict. This is siding with the enemy and you will become part of the enemy,” she explains.
12. “Oh yeah? What about you?!”
When you’re on the receiving end of criticism, it’s tempting to respond with defensiveness. But, while it might feel good in the moment, it won’t help you and your partner work through any relationship problems you’re dealing with. “Instead, own any part that’s true,” Shippey suggests, by responding with something like, “I apologize for doing that. It was inconsiderate of me.” Notice how, with time, it can help disagreements get resolved more easily by making your partner feel heard and understood.
From Parade Magazine