The One Word You're Saying That's Ruining Your Relationship, Experts Say
It may be common in your daily life, but avoid saying this one word to keep your relationship healthy.
You know communication is key to a healthy relationship and you also know there are some words that should never leave your lips, like "divorce" or any of those four-letter ones you may say in anger. But there's one word you may not realize is better left unsaid. Even though this common word isn't considered cruel on its own, there is an unspoken meaning behind it that could actually be slowly hacking at the stability of your relationship. According to relationship experts, the one word to avoid saying to your partner is "should." Read on to find out why this word could be ruining your relationship, and for more terms to steer clear of, check out The Worst Thing You Could Say to Someone in Bed.
When it comes to relationships, the word "should" tends to be linked to both unfair judgments and expectations. "Expectations that are attached to 'shoulds' are often rooted in unrealistic beliefs, unvocalized needs, or judgments regarding how a partner believes the other person should behave," explains Natalie Finegood Goldberg, LMFT, of Creating Change LA. "The reason this is problematic is 'cause it's equivalent to finger-pointing, which tends to be critical and elicit defensiveness." Goldberg says that when you communicate with this kind of tone, you make your partner feel like they're responsible for your feelings.
The word "should" can also make your partner feel like you have little respect for them, according to clinical psychologist Carla Manly, PhD, author of Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend. "Relationships tend to thrive when partners are communicative in cooperative, non-shaming ways. Use of the word 'should' can lead partners into shut-down or avoidant relationship dynamics," she says.
Darcie Brown, LMFT, says that using the word "should" with your partner can also make them feel like you're trying to overpower them. And when someone feels like their significant other is too controlling, they may avoid being themselves in the relationship. "From one partner to another, 'should' is typically a way of imposing one's values on the other," Brown says.
"'Should' can be bad for a relationship because it takes away a person's autonomy and sends the message: I know better than you," Brown adds. "While teamwork is essential in relationships, so is maintaining individuality. When you say, 'You should do this right now,' you infringe on your partner's sense of self and ability to determine the course of action that fits for them."
But "should" isn't the only word that can be hurting your partner. For more everyday words that could be ruining your relationship without you knowing it, read on, and for more on what keeps couples healthy and happy, check out 80 Percent of Couples With This in Common Stay Together, Study Finds.
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Relationship expert Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, points out that "always" is an absolute—and describing your partner's behavior with this word can ruin your relationship in the long-run. "For example, you're upset that your partner always leaves their clothes on the floor. You have a right to be upset," Bronstein says. "But the reality is that, most likely, they aren't leaving their clothes on the floor every day. Allow your partner some space to mess up once in a while and know that it doesn't mean anything about you." And for more things you and your significant other may need to work on, check out The Worst Way You're Thanking You Partner, Study Says.
Similar to "always," "never" is an extreme you'll want to avoid. When you tell your partner they "never" do something, it "can diminish the positive aspects of a person's behavior," Brown says. "Because absolutes aren't accurate, they tend to trigger a defensive reply, which is counterproductive to conflict resolution," she points out. And for more on what could keep you and your significant other from staying together, check out Half of Men Say They Would Break Up With a Woman Who Does This.
When your partner shares their feeling with you, responding with "yes, but…" is totally ineffective, says Lynell Ross, a certified relationship coach and resource director for Test Prep Insight. Ross says that when you use "but" like this, "you negate what your partner has just said," making them feel like you weren't actually trying to understand them or, worse yet, even listening to them at all. And for more red flags that your relationship is in trouble, check out Your Relationship Is Doomed If Your Partner Does This, Experts Say.
Despite all the "I love you's" exchanged over the course of your relationship, this three-letter word can still cause conflict. And when you're in the midst of expressing your feelings to your partner, this is one word to avoid. "Saying things like, 'You make me so mad,' or, 'You are procrastinating again,' tells your partner that you blame them for how you feel," explains Ross. "Framing your sentence this way also makes your partner feel attacked or judged." And for more relationship tips and advice sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
While expressing your needs in a relationship is important, this word can still be troublesome because it tends to get attached to wants that aren't really necessities, according to Michelle Pargman, LMHC. "The word 'need' can also get us in an unintentional argument with the person we care about the most. This is because when we use the word 'need,' we are holding whatever comes after that, as important as oxygen when it isn't," says Pargman. And for more on where relationships tend to fail, check out This Is the Most Adulterous State in America.