And the words we say to our spouse especially matter. It also matters how we say those words. The terms we choose, the mannerisms we use, the ways we express ourselves – every bit of communication between us – sets the tone for relationship. I wholeheartedly believe a couple’s communication is the foundation for the emotional framework of their lives together.
Heavy, right? Now this is not intended to make you paranoid about every word you utter, but it is important to remember that what comes out of our mouths reflects what’s in our hearts. You know this. You’ve likely experienced a few words from your spouse that absolutely crushed you, and vice versa. I want to raise the bar on our communication practices. I want us to think seriously about how we talk to our spouses. And I want to start with three phrases you should wipe out of your conversations:
You never …
You always …
If you would just …
Before I dig into each of these, let me first tell you what they have in common: – the you attack.
The you attack
One of the quickest ways to put someone on the defensive, whether in marriage or any other type of relationship, is to say you a lot in the midst of conflict.
This is blaming language. Blaming language is inflammatory language. It blows up the situation. It ignites an emotional response in the other person and their walls go up and possibly, their claws come out. Why? Because, whether true or not, when someone says the word “you” followed by anything negative, we feel it. We feel attacked. Criticized. Like less of a person. Not good enough. And the amazing thing is, even though we may know what was said is not entirely accurate or even true, our hearts still feel the wounding of their words.
In the work we do with couples, we watch for this pattern (or “dance”) and work it hard when it occurs. Until a couple learns ways to express negative feelings without using blaming language, very little progress can be made toward repairing the relationship.
Now let’s move on to the specific phrases and why you should wipe them out.
#1 You never …
You never come home on time.
You never tell me anything positive.
You never give me enough attention.
To say someone “never” (fill in the blank) is almost always an exaggeration. While it might feel good to air your feelings this way, it certainly won’t get you whatever you filled in the blank with. In fact, it usually gets you nowhere. In the past when I’ve done this with my husband, his engineer-brain kicks in and he immediately finds the one or two examples to disprove my claim. And just like that, we are in ‘Analyze the Past’ Land arguing about who remembers what. What a waste!
#2 You are always …
You are always grouchy.
You are always nagging me.
You are always more concerned about your parents than me.
These are also exaggerations, but they can be even more dangerous. By permanently labeling your spouse with a certain negative behavior, you are effectively telling them you’ve given up hope and you don’t believe they’ll ever change. No problem solving will happen; and in fact, speaking to your spouse this way will make your conflicts worse, not better.
#3 If you would just …
If you would just see things my way for once.
If you would just spend more time with the kids.
If you would just be more affectionate.
The fallacy with this line of thinking is oversimplification. The reality is, even if your spouse does exactly what you’re asking, it won’t magically fix everything in your relationship. There is no silver bullet. No one action on your spouse’s part will make all the hurts go away, or solve the differences that keep coming between you.
We must – we must – express our feelings, but we need to do it in a way that strengthens the relationship and encourages vulnerability and emotional intimacy. Finding different, healthier ways to talk through conflict is the key but it’s something many us of still need to learn how to do, especially if healthy communication was not role-modeled for us during our formative years.
The counselors and coaches at The Marriage Place are experts at helping you find ways to communicate authentically, without using blaming, attacking, exaggerating and oversimplifying language. Why not devote some time to improving how you and your spouse talk to each other?
Originally published at themarriageplace.com