All married couples fight. It’s natural. Spending your life — and raising a family with — someone leads to a litany of offenses that annoy you to your core (do you have to chew so loudly? Can you please not use the dish towels to wipe up your spilled sauce?) or disagreements about everything from what to order in to where to send the kids to school that constantly need to be discussed. Some of these arguments will, inevitably, get heated. But even when a slight disagreement spirals into a full-blown brawl, there are certain things you should avoid. Unless that is, you like the feel of a couch cushion against your cheek.
“Why Can’t You Be More Like…? “
Comparing your spouse to someone else, be it a sibling or parent or even a neighbor, can be incredibly damaging, as it raises the idea that who that person is isn’t good enough in the marriage. And it can begin to cause one or the other partner to begin to withdraw from the relationship. “In an argument,” Meyer says, “You don’t want to say things that go to someone’s very essence. Because if someone attacks you and attacks your very core, you’re going to retreat and you’re not going to share information with them.”
“I Should Have Married…”
Bringing up past lovers is a no-no, says Lisa Helfend Meyer, a Certified Specialist in Family Law and founding partner of Los Angeles-based Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers. Not only is it unnecessary and irrelevant, but it can also cause irreparable harm as, even long after the argument is over, the other person may continue to wonder if their spouse regrets marrying them. This can be an especially cruel blow for husbands. “Men don’t like the comparison thing at all,” Meyer says. “They don’t want to be compared financially, they don’t want you to compare their sexual abilities. Those are things that will really lead to problems.”
“You’ve Really Let Yourself Go…”
That’s just one example, but Meyer stresses that, in an argument, you never want to criticize your significant other for something that they can’t help about themselves. Whether it’s extra love handles or an overly large nose, things that are beyond their control should never be commented on during an argument. This extends to personal topics, obviously, so don’t you dare dig into your partner’s deeper issues.
“Why Didn’t You Get That Promotion?”
Insulting your spouse over failure at work can be a low blow because it speaks to their performance as a whole person, not just as a husband or wife, in the moment. “Saying things like, ‘I would have thought you’d have made partner by now,’ really attacks a person’s character,” Meyer says. “It attacks their values and goes to the heart of their essence as a human being.” She adds that that argument over failure at work can be inverted, castigating a person over success at work, which leads to…
“Why Do You Work So Much?”
This can be devastating to both a husband and a wife, as it points to a failure to maintain things at home, either by taking care of things around the house or, worse, being present for their children. If the spouse’s absence is an issue, says Meyer, there’s a gentler way to bring it up, such as proposing a family activity or even suggesting that one parent spend a special day with the kids to try and make up for lost time.
“I Haven’t Forgotten…”
This is a common problem in marital arguments, where a disagreement over putting the cap back on the toothpaste suddenly erupts into a full-blown dissertation on everything the other person has done wrong since their wedding day. When two spouses disagree, Meyer notes, it’s important not only to stay on message but to also make sure the past remains well in the rearview where it belongs. “It’s never a good idea when you’re arguing about, say, the current bills, and then you say, ‘And five years ago you went on that shopping spree!’” she says. “When that happens, the argument devolves into something that isn’t constructive.”
“I Hate the Way You Dress.”
This one sounds simple, but it can be wounding because it insults not only one’s appearance but also their sense of self. The way a person dresses can be tied into their identity and how they see themselves and want to present themselves. Having that called out in a negative way can cause tremendous self-doubt. If your significant other’s wardrobe choices are causing consternation, Meyer suggests a different approach. “Maybe try saying, ‘I saw this great pair of jeans and I know they’d look really good on you,’” she says. “Because when you only say negative things, you’re only making the person feel bad. You’re not offering a solution.”
Putting Down One’s Religious Beliefs
“What I see a lot in my cases is that couples will initially agree to raise their kids a certain way,” says Meyer, “and then as time goes on, one or the other will change their mind.” When this happens, she notes, the other person’s religion can be hurled out in the middle of an argument as a means of one-upping or even belittling the other person.
“You’re Just Like Your Mother/Father”
This is a card that men tend to play fairly regularly, but women can use it too. It tends to come up in the cases of couples that don’t get along with the mother or father of their significant other. Drawing a negative correlation between your spouse one of their parents is a surefire way to take an argument to another, even more unhealthy, level. “You’re comparing someone to somebody that they don’t like or respect,” Meyer says. “Those are things that you can’t take back or say, ‘I didn’t mean it,’ because you know that there’s a shred of truth to them.”
“I Never Loved You.”
Of all of the things that can be said during the heat of an argument, this is one that must be avoided at all costs, because it’s next to impossible to come back from. Even if you don’t mean it, Meyer says, saying it even once will plant a seed of doubt in the other person’s mind that will never really go away. “That’s really rough,” Meyer says. “Because then people start reinventing the relationship. They think that their whole life, and their whole marriage, was fake.”