60 Things No Spouse Ever Wants to Hear
We need to talk about your communication.
Communication is key to any healthy marriage. In fact, speaking openly and honestly makes partners more forgiving, is linked to reduced spousal depression, and can promote improvements in relationship quality, according to a 2017 review of more than 1,100 relationship studies and articles published in the Journal of Family Theory & Review.
That said, sometimes your approach to a difficult conversation doesn’t always yield the results you’d like. And you probably know by now that brutal honesty isn’t always the best policy. Want to be sure you don’t make a mistake that could derail your marriage? Then be sure to avoid the following 60 phrases you should never utter to your spouse, according to relationship experts.
“We need to talk.”
Even if you really do need to talk, this isn’t a great way to start things off. “It always means that there is going to be a difficult conversation, and it’s probably not going to go well,” says Jill Murray, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist and author. “The fear of the unknown and the accompanying dread makes it worse.”
“You should know how I’m feeling.”
No matter how well your spouse knows you, they probably can’t guess your exact emotions. “Humans aren’t natural mind readers,” notes David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert. As Bennett explains, most people can’t actually tell what someone is feeling if they’re not told, even if that person is their spouse.
“In the midst of something tense, the word ‘relax’ from your spouse only ramps things up,” says Mitzi Bockmann, a certified life coach. Heed her advice and avoid this directive at all costs.
“You talk too much.”
Dismissing your spouse as a chatterbox when they’re animated about something is a backhanded way of breaking down communication, an essential component of your relationship. It’s completely reasonable to expect to say your piece, but it’s never a good idea to tell your spouse that they have to zip it for you do to so.
“You’re just like my ex.”
Comparing your spouse to a past lover can be hurtful, even if they’re not usually competitive or jealous. “Most times in life, comparisons are unhelpful to us psychologically,” explains Alex Hedger, a cognitive behavioral therapist and the clinical director of Dynamic You Therapy Clinics. “Comparing a partner to a previous partner often causes fear and resentment. It can also prevent the partner who is making the comparison from experiencing their current relationship fully and healthily.”
“You’re just better with the kids than I am.”
Even if you feel that it’s true on some level, this is just a cop-out. In a two-parent home, you and your spouse both need to be wrangling the kids—not just one of you.
“They want their spouses to step up and help with the kids, not solely rely on them to do everything,” points out Vikki Ziegler, celebrity divorce attorney, relationship expert, and author of The Pre-Marital Planner.
“You remind me of my mother/father.”
This might sound like a compliment in your head, but chances are that’s not how your spouse will hear it. “Comparisons to any family member can completely kill the mood,” says Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, a therapist based in New York City.
“You’re becoming your mother/father.”
Similarly, no matter how much your spouse loves their parents, they’re never going to appreciate being told that they’re becoming one of them.
“You need a better job.”
Regardless of whether you think your spouse can do better on the career front, saying it this bluntly won’t get you very far. “You need to find ways to talk to them without putting them down,” says Stef Safran, a dating and matchmaking expert based in Chicago. “Suggesting some goals is a better way to deal with them instead of flat out stating something negative.”
“If you don’t like it, leave.”
Nobody likes an ultimatum, so unless you’re really ready to say so long to your spouse, this phrase should never pass your lips. “This all-or-nothing approach to relationships is a manipulative conversation-killer, as it leaves you with no reasonable way to respond,” says Dr. Jess O’Reilly, PhD, the resident sexologist at Astroglide. It’s best to avoid this kind of demand at all costs.
“I want a divorce.”
Threatening divorce just to incite a reaction is even worse than the aforementioned ultimatum. “So often, couples run into temporary moments of discomfort in their marriages, and instead of having logical conversations about how to make the relationship better, they go straight for the D-word,” notes Allison Maxim, lead attorney at Maxim Law. “This is not only unhealthy rhetoric, but making these comments could leave your spouse feeling unsafe and insecure.”
“You’re not listening to me.”
Making an accusation won’t get you very far. The better approach is to check in with your spouse and ask what’s distracting them. “Instead of assuming they didn’t hear you, you can nicely ask if they are listening,” says Rori Sassoon, matchmaker and CEO of Platinum Poire, an invitation-only, power couple dating service.
“Don’t take this personally.”
It’s virtually impossible not to take your spouse’s words and actions personally, so suggesting they try not to is not helpful in any way. “We have a right to feel what we feel, and to work through those emotions with our partners,” notes Jodi J. De Luca, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Colorado. “To be denied this right is to invalidate a very intimate part of who we are, and often results in psychologically unsafe relationships.”
“Nothing is worse than the ‘I’m fine,'” says Michelle Frankel, the founder of NYCity Matchmaking. She notes that these two words can come across as you not trusting your partner to help when you’re feeling emotional. If you’re not actually fine, then say so.
“Why don’t you ever…?”
“No matter what the end of this question is, it is already overflowing with negative connotations and shame before the subject is even delivered,” notes Britanny Burr, love and relationship expert for Psych N Sex. “Asking someone why they don’t do something that you would like them to do is not going to make them want to do it—it is merely shaming them and making them feel poorly about something they may not have known you wanted.”
So instead of saying, “Why don’t you ever take me out to dinner anymore?” try going with, “Wouldn’t it be fun to go out for dinner sometime this week?”
“That’s not my job.”
There are plenty of chores people don’t like doing, whether it’s changing diapers or cleaning the oven. However, in a marriage, claiming that something “isn’t your job” makes it seem as though that vision of equitable work you both imagined when you tied the knot has somehow flown out the window.
“You never help around the house.”
Even if you don’t feel like your spouse matches your efforts in terms of housework, odds are they do some things to help out—and recognizing that will get you further than playing the blame game.
The best way to ask your spouse to do more is to acknowledge what they’ve already done, praise them for it, and after doing that, simply ask them to handle specific tasks as they come up.
“Why don’t we have sex like we used to?”
A sexless marriage is absolutely worth addressing, but this phrasing is likely to put your spouse on the defensive. Besides, having unrealistic expectations about sex is not going to get you anywhere.
“The first 18 months of a relationship are magical in almost every way, particularly sexually. This frenzied phase cannot be sustained, but is typically replaced by amazing levels of security and deep, attuned attachment,” notes Dr. Holly Richmond, somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist. “A lot of changes happen in relationships over the years, including having children, career stress, financial strain, health problems or perhaps having to care for a parent. It is absolutely possible for long-term couples to have an exciting sex life, but it is unlikely it will ever be like it was at the beginning. Be open to moving passionately into the future, not trying to recreate the past.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
This might seem innocuous enough, but this one sentence can actually make your spouse feel worse. If your spouse doesn’t know what’s wrong, it won’t be easy for them to fix it, potentially leading to a cycle of hurt feelings that’s not so easily remedied.
“We need some space.”
Sometimes this sentence can be heard as “I’m getting ready to end our relationship”—so be sure to make it a conversation instead of declarative statement.
“While [time apart] can often be a useful strategy in a relationship, it’s important for both partners to understand why some time apart could be useful,” says Hedger. “Unless both fully understand the rationale and the possible benefits that could come from downtime, then it can seem like a threatening thing to hear in a relationship.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“Being heard, empathized with, and ‘validated’ are crucial to a healthy relationship,” Hedger says. “Statements like ‘you’re being ridiculous’ demonstrate that someone is either struggling to or unwilling to empathize. This often leads to a position of confrontation with the other partner feeling that they have to justify their thoughts or feelings.”
Hedger suggests sticking to “I” statements as opposed to “you” ones in moments of conflict. For example, “I don’t understand why you feel that way” would be a good substitute here.
“Unless this is said playfully and in the bedroom, this phrase will likely not go over smoothly,” Sassoon says. If you want your spouse to do something, don’t order them or threaten them—just ask nicely.
“Wait, what did you say?”
If your spouse has to repeat what they said because you weren’t listening, don’t be surprised when they’re more than a little annoyed about it. “It can be very hurtful,” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist and founder of a couples retreat in Boulder, Colorado.
“This is your fault.”
Placing all of the blame on someone else isn’t the way to work through problems. “It is extremely important for couples to solve problems as a team, rather than hold one partner responsible,” says Frankel.
“You can’t understand what I’m going through.”
If you want a healthy marriage, it’s worth letting your partner know how you’re feeling and how they can help instead of shutting them out.
This is especially true when it comes to pregnancy and early parenting, explains Justin Lioi, LCSW, a men’s mental health and relationship expert in Brooklyn, New York. “Of course they can’t, and they know it. But they want to find a way in,” he says of male partners.
“You used to be so much fun.”
It’s only natural for relationships to change over time. Those nights you used to spend shotgunning beers and staying out all night weren’t meant to last forever. In fact, it’s probably best that things have calmed down for both of you. So, telling your partner they used to be “fun” likely just means more wild and really, that’s not what your marriage needs as you age.
“You looked so good back then.”
Again, the emphasis on the past makes this compliment a backhanded one. While you may simply be saying this to be kind, don’t be surprised if your partner takes it to mean you wish they still looked like they did decades ago.
“_____’s spouse always…”
“This phrase is never uttered simply for the sake of sharing information,” Burr points out. Every relationship is different, but if someone else’s spouse does something you’d like your own significant other to emulate—whether that’s cooking dinner more often or being more adventurous in bed—tell them that plainly without making a comparison and bringing another couple’s marriage into it.
“You never let me do what I want.”
In a partnership, it’s important to consider the needs of your spouse, and sometimes, that means suggesting that you buy a safe, reliable car instead of a convertible, or that you set aside money for your future instead of going on an expensive vacation. While it may seem like your partner is trying to hold you back, it’s important to realize they’re acting responsibly for the good of your marriage and your family, not trying to punish you. Otherwise, you could end up hearing this phrase…
“We’re out of money.”
“When married couples find themselves in this situation, it is because neither of them can get on a financial plan that they both can agree on,” says personal finance expert Nolan Martin. “Typically, one of them is the spender and one of them is the saver. In many cases, they find difficulty in reaching common ground to prevent not having enough dollars to make it through the month.”
Has anyone ever actually calmed down because someone else told them to do so? If your partner seems particularly agitated, ask them what’s really going on instead of telling them how you think they should behave.
“In a minute.”
“This is code for ‘maybe,’ ‘sometime,’ or ‘probably never,'” says Gina Gardiner, a relationship expert and author in Essex, England. (And heads up: Your spouse already realizes this.)
“You’re so dramatic.”
What reads as drama to you might just be your partner’s very real—and earnest—way of expressing their feelings. If you feel like your spouse is blowing things out of proportion, you can express that without resorting to this also-offensive D-word.
“You need to…”
Your spouse is their own person—they don’t need to do something just because it’s what you think they should do. Talking to your spouse like you’re their teacher or parent isn’t likely to yield the changes you were hoping for, anyway.
“How much have you had to drink?”
Unless your spouse has a habit of over-imbibing or is trying to do something dangerous, like getting behind the wheel, odds are all this question will do is get their guard up.
If your spouse had a couple drinks, took a cab home, and is now trying to explain what they think the hidden meaning behind Finding Nemo is to you while reminding you how cute you are, let them do so without an interrogation.
Just because you can’t think of ways to entertain yourself doesn’t mean that’s your spouse’s problem. While life may get a little less exciting as you get older, it’s unfair to blame that on your partner—it’s not their job to make sure everyone’s having fun all the time.
This one just isn’t going to get you anywhere. Have you ever felt motivated to rush after hearing this phrase?
“I’m not attracted to you right now.”
Is it okay for your attraction to your partner to wax and wane? Of course—and it’s always your prerogative to say no to being intimate, too. That said, telling your partner point-blank that you’re not attracted to them only achieves one thing: making them feel bad without getting to the root of why your attraction to them is diminishing.
“Stop looking at your phone.”
Sure, you may want your spouse to pay more attention to you and less time on Facebook and Instagram. But it’s better to work through some compromises at another time than to admonish your partner like they’re a child.
“Stop nagging me.”
Often what’s interpreted as “nagging” is simply asking for help.
To the person allegedly doing the nagging, hearing this can be particularly aggravating—especially when their spouse is simply reminding them to do something they promised they would.
“Are you seriously going to eat that?”
It’s one thing to suggest that you and your spouse eat healthier or hit the gym together. It’s another thing altogether to critique what your spouse has just ordered or is about to eat. Unless eating a certain food would trigger a medical issue for them, it’s not your place to tell them what to put in their mouth—your partner is an adult and can make their own decisions.
“Why on earth did your mom….?”
Yes, sometimes you need to vent in this clash of familial titans, but putting your spouse between yourself and their parent will rarely end well. In these conflicts, your spouse can’t win—there will be trouble on the home front if they take their parent’s side, and a lot of cold shoulders during the holidays if they take yours.
“I hate your family.”
This sentence—an even more extreme version of familial dissidence—can cut your spouse like a knife. If you have particular problems with members of your partner’s family, discuss those instead of condemning the whole group. For instance, you could say, “It didn’t feel very respectful when your mother went against our wishes about feeding the baby,” or, “It hurts my feelings when your brother calls me by that nickname.”
“I hate your friends.”
Again, even if you’re not crazy about your spouse’s friends (or perhaps just one friend in particular), it’s best to not flat out say that you hate them. It can be hard to make friends as an adult, so driving a wedge between your spouse and their peers can easily make your spouse feel isolated. As long as those friends are not disrespectful or dangerous, it’s better not to mention it.
“It must be nice having someone else take care of the bills.”
If you’re the primary breadwinner in your family, that doesn’t mean your partner isn’t contributing. Acting as though you pulling in a higher salary means your spouse is essentially on a permanent vacation is not only patronizing, it diminishes all the work they do, whether that’s a lower-paying job or taking care of your kids full-time.
“Do you think they’re more attractive than me?”
There’s no way that an answer to this question is going to end up being the one you want. If your spouse says yes, they’re in for a fight. If they say no, they open themselves up to a million questions about whether or not they’re telling the truth.
Trust that your spouse finds you attractive, and if it seems like they’ve stopped, that’s worthy of greater discussion than an off-handed comment about someone else’s looks.
“I hate to keep harping, but…”
If you know your spouse isn’t getting around to something you need them to do, bringing it up over and over—and framing those requests as “harping”—is not the best way to get it done.
Instead, make it clear that you’re serious about the issue at hand, and remind your spouse how it makes you feel when they don’t listen to those requests.
“I know I said I would do it, but…”
On the other side of the coin, it can be tempting to say you’re going to do something you know you aren’t, just to end a conversation about it. But that’s not an effective strategy in the long run. As many partners to procrastinators know all too well, “Not getting things done that they say they are going to get done is worse than saying they can’t do it,” says Bockmann.
“I can’t stand driving with you.”
Telling your spouse how to drive or ridiculing them behind the wheel feels like a public flog. If they’ve done an okay job up to this point and they drive this route 82 times a week, they probably don’t need your human GPS impression in their ear.
“Is that what you’re wearing?”
If it’s on your partner’s body, then go ahead and assume that’s what they’ve decided to wear, even if it’s not your cup of tea. This mean-spirited phrase will not only make your spouse second-guess their outfit choice, it’ll likely deliver a hit to their confidence, too.
“Yes, that outfit does make you look fat.”
Trust us, no matter how many times the question is posed, the right answer is always, “No, you look great!”
“How do these pants fit?”
Again, there’s only one answer: “Great!” All others are disqualifying.
“You, uh, you got haircut.”
Even if you don’t think your spouse’s new ‘do is the most flattering—or you can hardly tell that they changed anything about it at all—this phrase is unlikely to win you points. If you know your spouse has done something new with their hair, say it looks great, or wait until they bring it up if it seems like they’re disappointed with the new style.
“Well, you did it first.”
If your partner is expressing a grievance, it’s not the time for a childish back-and-forth about who started it. Whether they’re having a hard time dealing with your messiness or they feel like you should be more attuned to their emotional needs, telling them that they do the same thing to you is immature and hurtful.
“What are you thinking about?”
This question may seem relatively harmless in the middle of a deep conversation or argument. But coming up with the right answer is easier said than done. Do you really want to know that your significant other is thinking about their fantasy football team, what that passive-aggressive email from their boss meant, or what their ex is up to? If the answer is no, then don’t ask this question.
“Get over it.”
This dismissive and mean-spirited phrase is unlikely to yield the results you want—but pretty likely to be the catalyst for a big fight. No matter how unreasonable you think your spouse is being, find a kinder way to acknowledge their emotions.
“Did you finish?”
If you have to ask…
“I have an STD.”
This is a particularly touchy topic because it often means there’s something extramarital going on—and if not, it’s an unwelcome reminder of past relationships. “It’s scary to learn that you may contract something from your loved one who had unprotected sex in the past,” Ziegler notes. That said, “getting tested and being proactive can help a spouse protect themselves.”
“Pick up the phone when I call.”
Common courtesy does, in fact, dictate for people to do so, but sometimes, your spouse has other commitments that can’t be avoided—even if they just texted 13 seconds earlier. Don’t take it as avoidance, but as a sign they’re trying to manage the best they can.
There’s nothing worse than the silent treatment. “In my experience, when there is a lack of engagement, no response to questions, or no empathy expressed when they are upset, it is incredibly hurtful and damaging,” Gardiner says. “It destroys [your partner’s] confidence and sense of self-worth.”
So even if you’re not sure what to say, know that saying something is better than saying nothing at all. And if you want to keep your marriage healthy, make sure you’re asking these 22 Questions to Ask Your Spouse Once a Year.
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