When you’re talking to someone, chances are, even if you’re mad at them, you don’t want to say anything that could cause serious and lingering upset or damage.
It can be easy to say things that you don’t mean, but it’s important to remember that words can hurt.
Damaging comments can also slip out under the guise of “honesty,” but in many of these cases, you likely don’t realize the hurt you may be causing. Saying things to your partner that could be hurting their mental health might not be your intention, but that’s all the more reason to understand what sort of effect your words may be having.
“We all slip up at times and say things that aren’t the most tactful or that come from our own frustrations,” Risa Ganel, M.S., LCMFT, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist, told INSIDER. “A slip on occasion can be cleaned up with a sincere apology. However, if you are routinely saying things that are harmful to your spouses well being, there is more work to be done.”
Recognizing which sorts of things that you’re saying could be having these kinds of negative effects, however, is really the first step.
Anything you say that disregards, ignores, or minimizes your partner’s feelings can also potentially negatively impact their mental health, so it’s important to make your partner feel heard and validated.
“When we invalidate someone’s feelings, it can make them mistrust their own experience,” Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told INSIDER. “It also may make it difficult for them to reach out to you again in the future because they’ll imagine that they’ll just be written off. It’s important to remember that, while it’s helpful for some folks to think positive, the reality is that by the time someone has shared with you that they’re struggling, they have most likely already tried what you’re suggesting, and at that point, they’re dealing with something bigger. What’s most helpful then is to have that struggle seen and heard.”
Telling someone to “get over” something is not only unhelpful, but it could also further drive them away from you and invalidate their feelings. It can show them that you can’t be bothered with their problems.
“Statements such as ‘et over it already’ are dismissive of your partner’s feelings and can lead them to feel they have no support from the person they are supposed to be closest to,” Ganel said. “Lack of support and a lack of empathy increases mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.”
Bringing up your partner’s past isn’t always completely innocuous. Sometimes it can have a real negative effect, so treading lightly can be best, especially if they have trauma, people, or moments from their past that they don’t like to bring up.
“If your partner shares with you in vulnerable moments, don’t bring that information up or question them about what they previously candidly shared,” Nedra Glover Tawwab, LCSW, of Kaleidoscope Counseling, told INSIDER. “You will notice that this bothers your partner if they avoid the topic or deny that they ever told you anything.”
If you notice that your partner seems to be shying away from a conversation, that’s potentially a sign that the conversation is one that could be really difficult or even upsetting for them. That doesn’t always mean that they don’t want to talk about it or that working through it with them isn’t helpful, but be aware of how much they want to — and can — handle.
Categorizing things as “always” or “never,” saying that they “always do this” or “never do that,” can make your partner feel like they’re stuck in a pattern of behavior. Carrie Krawiec, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told INSIDER that these kinds of comments belittle your partner or come across as overly critical or accusatory.
“These are character attacks and boundary violations,” Krawiec said. “You are qualifying the whole person as a certain way which could be stereotyping. It is a boundary violation because you can not fully know nor should you speak to another person’s experience.”
Using clinical terms like “depression,” “bipolar disorder,” or “PTSD” without an actual diagnosis isn’t productive for anyone involved and can negatively affect your partner.
“Labeling people when they don’t have a diagnosis such as calling them depressed or bipolar is harmful,” Tawwab said. “This can be potentially hurtful when not done in a loving manner. Partners should be diagnosed by a mental health professional.”
“Shaming statements like ‘You’re just like your mother’ or ‘You never used to be so difficult’ or ‘Stop being so dramatic’ are extremely demoralizing and erode a person’s sense of well being. It sends the message that there is something wrong with them as a person. These shame statements are often subtle and slowly erode a person’s mental health,” Ganel told INSIDER.
Regardless of if anyone else can hear what you’re saying and regardless of whether or not you try to shrug it off as just a joke, these kinds of comments can be really difficult to hear and can make your partner feel terrible.
Encouraging everyone else to join in on this though, is particularly especially bad. “Getting people to talk about the personality flaws of your partner in front of her partner is harmful,” Tawwab said. “Public disgracing is not a way to get people to improve.”
Telling your partner that they should be a certain way or do a certain thing can be really demoralizing. It can make them feel like they’re not good enough and it can also be controlling.
“Should implies expectations,” Krawiec said. “The more unmet unreasonable expectations you have the unhappier you and your partner will be. Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”
If you think that you’re saying some of these things that could be having a negative effect on your partner, one of the things that you can do is to use more “I” statements and fewer “you” statements, Krawiec said.
It helps avoid some of the shame, blaming, criticizing, and more that can come with “you” statements. Additionally, having a real conversation with your partner about how they’re feeling about the way that you talk to them (and being willing to take it in, consider it, and do your best) can also be a good idea, Ganel said. It might require some work and humility on your part, but could potentially help smooth things out overall.
And talking to a qualified professional can also help the two of you sort things out and communicate more effectively, healthily, and lovingly.
Originally published on Insider.
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