20 Things You Should Never Say In an Argument With Your Spouse
Once something is said, it can't be unsaid.
When you’re angry, it’s all too easy to say something you’ll regret. That goes triply for arguments with your spouse; years of shared history provide enough material for you to craft a remark that cuts like a knife. And once something is said, it can’t be unsaid, which is essential to keep in mind. Just one off-hand suggestion of divorce can corrode even the strongest bonds.
So, it’s best to fight fair, ensuring that your spousal arguments are honest and constructive, rather than petty and spiteful. To help you learn how to master those skills, we spoke to couples counselors and relationship experts to find out the exact words and phrases you should never, ever drop on the emotional battleground.
“I should have never married you.”
As far as emotionally charged comments go, few are worse than this. “This scathing remark is incredibly toxic and hurtful,” says Adina Mahalli, a relationship expert and mental health consultant at Maple Holistics. “Moreover, it negates the good times you’ve shared together in the past purely based on the troubles of the present. If you find yourself arguing with your spouse, keep the argument on topic so that it’s a productive disagreement and not a war of words.”
“You never help out around the house.”
Using absolutes during an argument with your spouse can quickly turn any phrase into a character assassination, says Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, a psychologist and couples counselor with the Baltimore Therapy Group. “When you use absolutes … you turn what could have been a legitimate complaint into a character assault,” she says. “There is little motivating about hearing that you’re defective in an absolute way. However, when you hear that your partner needs your help or that they want a connection from you, that’s something you can respond to.”
“You’re always on my back.”
“By stating ‘always’ and ‘never,’ this doesn’t give your spouse credit for anything they’ve done well in the relationship,” notes Charese L. Josie, a counselor specializing in relationships and women’s issues in Portsmouth, Virginia. “It also doesn’t acknowledge their efforts. Usually, stating ‘always’ or ‘never’ is untrue and will often derail the topic of discussion.”
“I hate you.”
Even if you get to the point where you want to hurl this phrase out, you probably don’t mean it. According to Shelley Meche’tte, a certified life purpose coach and author of 70 Days of Happy: Life is Better When You Smile, if you “hate” something, you want it gone from your life.
“Things we ‘hate’ we find no value in,” she says. “Are you angry with your spouse when you are arguing? Of course, you are. Do spouses ever fight ‘unfair’ at times … with the intent to verbally slice the other? Sometimes. But ask yourself: Do you really ‘hate’ the person you are currently at odds with? Are you filled with disdain? Is your desire to ‘throw them away’ without a second thought? Probably not. But words like ‘I hate you’ send this very message.”
“This is your fault.”
“More often than not, fault in a relationship is bidirectional,” says Lyons. What she means is, “our spouse did something that triggered a reaction in us, that then triggered a reaction in our spouse.” Instead of being overly defensive during arguments, Lyons suggests accepting responsibility to ensure that things don’t escalate any further.
“I shouldn’t have listened to you…”
Dropping this line in an argument can instill a long-lasting, even permanent, doubt. “Hearing regretful words like these creates doubt to your love for each other. It can also lower your partner’s self-esteem,” says Celia Schweyer, a dating and relationship expert at DatingScout.com. “You will only end up in a cycle of blame, instead of actually fixing the problem. In the long run, your partner might hesitate to be as open and frank with you once you’ve said this to them.”
“This was just like the last time! How come you never change?”
When you resurface dirt from a previous fight, you’re not being fair to your partner. In fact, you could be causing them unnecessary hurt. “After an issue has been talked about and resolved, it should be put in your mind’s trash bin, never to be dug out again,” says Schweyer. “When you attack your partner about how he or she never changes after the past argument, that can seem unfair as they might really be trying to change their ways.” Again, keep your fights on topic.
“I could find someone better than you in an instant.”
You don’t need us to tell you that this phrase should be off limits. Ask any relationship expert, and they’ll tell you that bringing third parties into the fray (even in the form of off-hand mentions) is the type of thing most couples don’t recover from. Even after the dust settles, your partner will always be thinking in the back of their head: “Is there someone else?” Since trust is the foundation for all solid relationships, this sentence is a recipe for emotional disaster.
“You’re just like your mother/father/sister/brother/friend.”
Not only does this phrase insult your partner, but it also insults those who are closest to them, making it a total lose-lose. “Never say this to your partner no matter how upset you get; you’ll definitely hit a nerve,” says Schweyer. “Keep a clear head when you are in an argument with your partner, because it’s almost impossible to take hurtful words back after they are said.”
“I don’t need you.”
In any spousal argument, pride is going to play a role. For the sake of your bond, though, try to table yours. “Telling your partner that you don’t need them would drive a wedge between the two of you,” says Schweyer. “Such a strong statement is not something that can easily be forgotten. It will be something that will pop into your partner’s mind even after the argument has been settled. As a partner, it’s your responsibility to make each other feel needed and validated.”
“You’re so stupid.”
“Never insult the other person’s educational level or intelligence,” says Stacey Greene, a relationship coach and author of Stronger Than Broken, a book about her personal journey to reconstruct her marriage after an affair. “That’s simply a low blow and shows no character on your part.”
“You don’t feel that way.”
No matter how much your spouse has gotten under your skin, dismissing their feelings is belittling at best. “You might not feel that way or have the same reaction to a situation, but it is very disrespectful to dismiss someone else’s feelings or experiences,” says Lesli Doares, a couples consultant and coach, and the author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work. Instead of assuming how your partner feels, ask them to tell you how they feel. You’ll have a far more honest, empathetic conversation that way.
“This conversation is over.”
When you attempt to slam the breaks on a conversation in a totalitarian way, you’re sending signals to your partner that they’ve lost your attention and don’t have permission to speak with you anymore. “Unilaterally shutting down a conversation, even if it’s an argument, conveys to your partner that they can’t access you,” says Lyons. “We’re social beings, hard-wired to be connected to others. This way of cutting off contact will heighten emotion or disconnection. Over time, both of these reactions can erode the bond in a relationship.”
“Forget it, you’ll never understand.”
If you dismiss your partner, saying they won’t “understand,” you’re essentially communicating that you feel like they don’t know you anymore. “The message you’re really saying is ‘I don’t even want to talk to you, I feel that I’m a stranger to you,'” says April Kirkwood, a professional counselor and author of Working My Way Back to Me: A Frank Memoir of Self-Discovery.
“Sure. Good luck with that.”
Sarcasm has no place in an honest conversation, particularly in an argument where snark like this just comes off as petty and mean. Though it might seem like a mere sarcastic quip, the underlying tone says “‘You can’t do it,’ ‘What are you thinking?,’ ‘Go ahead and try,'” explains Kirkwood. Instead, she suggests practicing patience.
“If I knew then what I know now…”
According to Kirkwood, the translation of this phrase is simple: “I wish I never laid eyes on you.” Even if you’re in the middle of some super-charged emotional warfare, do you really regret the time you’ve spent with your partner? Chances are, the answer is a resounding no. So, unless you’re comfortable erasing your shared history, keep this phrase out of your mouth.
“If you don’t do this/stop doing that, I’m going to leave you.”
No matter how serious the fight is, you should never resort to ultimatums. “It’s healthier to start with how you feel so the person knows the pain you are in,” says Joelle Brant, a Virginia Beach-based professional life coach. “The pain is the reason for the boundary/ultimatum. If you omit the pain … it comes across as a command or criticism and the other person will be on the defensive.”
“I’m sorry that I’m not good enough for you.”
First of all, you know that what you’re saying here is simply not true. If you weren’t good enough for your partner, they never would’ve gotten hitched to you in the first place, notes Swati Mittal Jagetia, a relationship and mental health expert and the founder of Purpose Squared, a boutique provider of mental health counseling and executive coaching in New York City.
“This phrase turns the conversation from being about how things can be changed or improved into one where … you’re convincing your partner they’re enough,” she says. “When a partner uses this phrase regularly, it inhibits any real conversation about change, while dismissing their partner’s needs or struggle. It’s possible to have wonderful marriages and still disagree.”
Oh, it most certainly is not.
“I want a divorce.”
If there’s one word you should never, ever use in an argument with your spouse, it’s “divorce.” Why? Bringing up this word, or others like it—even if you don’t really mean it—can fast track your relationship to splitsville. “The top phrases to avoid in an argument are ‘I wish I never would have married you,’ ‘I want a divorce,’ and ‘I don’t think this is going to work anymore,'” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and host of the marriage podcast Marriage Steps. “Any of these comments put the security of the relationship at risk and should not be said in a heated argument.” And to know when it actually is the end, here are 30 Subtle Signs Your Marriage Is Over And You Don’t Want to Admit It.
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