There are many things that can harm a marriage: financial stress, unfaithful partner, uncontrolled addictions. All of these things take a considerable amount of effort and time from both partners. But there is one thing that can change the quality of a marriage almost instantly: What you say to each other on a daily basis. If you’d like to avoid arguments or diffuse the start of one, make a conscious effort of omitting these phrases from your conversations.
1. “You always/never…”
Never start a sentence with this phrase no matter how much you may feel it in the moment. It’s a harsh accusation to say to your spouse “you never listen” or “you always work late” because a) it’s not true. b) Most of the time this comment is born in the heat of the moment. A better way of speaking your mind would be taking a deep breath and saying, “Sometimes I don’t feel heard or understood. Do you mind listening for a couple of minutes? It’s really important to me” or, “I’m sure all these extra hours are hard on you. It has been tough on our family, as well. Maybe we can discuss some ways we can have some more family time.”
2. “I hear a new gym just opened up. You should seriously think about signing up. You need it.”
This is basically a slap to the face and implying your dissatisfaction with your spouse’s body. Never say something negative about your sweetheart’s body. Never.
3. “If you really loved me, you would do…”
This sounds like a trap. Essentially, it is communicating that your spouse is selfish if he doesn’t do XYZ. In reality, I feel the opposite is true. The person who is making this request is being selfish as she is not considering the feelings of her partner. What if it’s something your spouse is uncomfortable with? What if it’s not in the budget? Not only that, but this sounds manipulative and one-sided. No one wants to be forced to do anything. When it comes to major decisions that will affect both parties, it’s best if they are mutually decided upon, and not demanded in the name of “love.”
4. “I can’t wait to go to work/for you to go to work.”
I know. Many of us have been here. You’ve had a not so perfect weekend/evening/holiday together, and you feel like distance between you is the answer. A little break from each other to cool tempers and clear minds is good, even healthy. But actually telling your significant other that you would like them to be elsewhere or that you don’t want to be near her is hurtful and devalues her as your partner and parent of your children. Regardless of the argument(s), just rephrase your need for some space. Something like, “I’m sorry we’ve had a rough couple of days together. Maybe we can start again tomorrow.”
5. “You’re such a (insert insulting name).”
This is your spouse. Your confidant. Your sweetheart. Even if you feel the insult is deserved – don’t say it. Take the higher road. Don’t just react in an argument, try to diffuse it with, “I’m sure you didn’t mean that. Let’s talk about this when you are yourself.” Or, “That was hurtful. When you’re ready to talk respectfully, we can discuss this problem together.”
6. “Well, so-and-so’s spouse does that…”
Ouch. Comparing can cause resentment and feelings of inadequacy. I’m reminded of the phrase, “Choose your love, love your choice.” This doesn’t mean you just put up with bad habits. But how you approach your partner makes a world of difference in how safe and valued they feel with you. Here’s another way of communicating your feelings: “You know what makes me feel loved? When you help me do dishes/help the kids with homework/clean up after yourself.”
Marriages are fragile. Let us be more careful and mindful of what, and how, we communicate with our sweethearts. The wrong tone, word choice or angry outburst can do more damage than most of us realize. I like the quote by Family Advocate F. Burton Howard in regards to marriage: “If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently.”