Your spouse cannot “unhear” what you spew out of anger – even if you apologize. Those hurtful words can wedge their way into your spouse’s mind and heart, creating mistrust and doubt. Attempts to repair the harm may not be successful, and repeated attacks will create an ever-deepening wedge between you.
While watching every word you say is no way to have an open, caring relationship, you may find it helpful to avoid five phrases that will inevitably damage your relationship:
I want a divorce. Unless you really mean it, just don’t go there. Saying those words will undermine the connection between you. By holding true to your commitment to each other, you more likely weather the stormy times together.
Instead, tune into what you are feeling and express that. For instance, you might say that you feel angry, furious, hurt, mistrustful, or betrayed. Labeling these emotions expresses how you feel without attacking your spouse or your marriage.
I hate you. This phrase can imply a level of animosity toward your spouse’s character that has some staying power. Do you really loathe, detest, or abhor your spouse? If so, then maybe it’s time to truly consider divorce. If not, then don’t say it.
A couple of slightly different versions of this are: “I never loved you;” and, “I never should have married you.” These comments may cause your spouse to doubt your true feelings even after your momentary hostility passes.
Instead, pay attention to your emotions along with what is causing them. For instance, you might say that you are angry or even furious with your spouse for, say, ignoring your calls and texts when out with friends. If you feel compelled to use the word hate, be sure to attach it to your spouse’s behavior rather than your spouse. You might say, “I hate when you walk out of the room when I talk to you!”
You are (negative character trait). When you label and attack your spouse’s character, you don’t allow for the chance that they’ll change. For instance, think about what it means to call your spouse stupid, heartless, or worthless. In considering the last insult, if your spouse really is worthless, then there is nothing of value they can offer you or your relationship.
Instead, talk about the behaviors that bother you. You might say that when they do none of the housework, it leaves too much on your plate and you feel resentful. This allows the possibility of your spouse changing their behavior.
You never (positive action). When you say that your spouse never does some behavior, you are probably discounting some time when they actually did do that behavior. This firmly puts them in the “bad guy” camp and is an invitation for them to argue with you. It’s just not a good way to encourage them to change.
Similarly, it is problematic to say, “You always (criticism)” – as in, “You always ignore me.”
Instead, be specific about the problem and the change you’d like to see while also sharing your feelings. “When you spend every weeknight on the computer and barely register my existence, I feel really hurt and unloved. It’s also why I’ve been so angry with you. If you talked or watched a movie with me at least a couple of nights a week, I would feel like you loved me and I wouldn’t be so angry with you.”
If you recognize that you use any of the above phrases, try making the changes suggested and your spouse will be more likely to really hear you. You’ll have a much better chance at having a constructive conversation and ultimately feeling happier together.