While they meant well, whoever said “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do that matters most” never had kids. Kids learn a lot about how communication is supposed to work from observing you and your spouse interact with one another. If you’re caustic? They’ll be caustic. If you’re angry? They’ll probably be angry. If you use bad words, they’ll use bad words. Of course, this also applies to less obvious territory: toss-away phrases you might say. After speaking to several relationship experts, we found these seemingly harmless phrases to stop saying to your spouse when your kids are around.
“You’re Too Sensitive”
In general, it’s no one’s place to tell someone else what they’re allowed to feel. This bad habit sends a bad message to kids. “A statement like this invalidates your spouse’s feelings and tells them that they aren’t entitled to be upset,” says Kimberly Hershenson, a New York-based relationship therapist. “Someone cannot tell you what is an appropriate response to a situation; they’re your feelings.”
“I Don’t Care”
“If your spouse is asking for your opinion or insight, stating ‘I don’t care’ sends a signal that you aren’t interested in what they have to say,” Hershenson says. There are more polite ways of explaining that you’re indifferent, or that whether you order Indian or Thai for dinner is of little consequence because A) they’re both delicious, and B) after a long day you have don’t care about this particular issue. Extra garlic naan, please.
Humans are more connected than ever and somehow as lonely as ever — and this phrase might be part of the reason why. “Saying you’re busy while continuing doing what you’re doing, such as texting or checking email, while your spouse is trying to get your feedback will make them feel alone,” Hershenson says. She adds that this also sends a very bad signal to your children in that it makes it seem like they’re not important enough for you.
“I Need to Exercise Because My Body Is _____”
Regardless that you haven’t seen your toes in a while, this type of remark can have a ripple effect on your children’s self-image, says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist and author. “If your child sees you stepping on the scale every day and hears you talk about being ‘fat’, she may develop an unhealthy body image. Be acutely self-aware as everything you say and do is the template model for how your children will absorb messages about themselves.”
“Told You So”
This expression never won anyone friends, and isn’t helping at home either, says Jonathan R. Bennett, a certified counselor and author of The Popular Man. “It may seem harmless to remind your spouse that you were right and they were wrong. But this tells kids that communication is about being ‘right’ and gaining an upper hand, rather than reaching a shared goal.”
“Look What You Did“
Saying this implies that the mistake itself was a big deal, which is unconstructive and, well, rude. “Instead, focus on how a mistake was remedied to everyone’s satisfaction,” Bennett says. “Mistakes are best thought of as chances to learn, versus being ‘failures’.”
“You Never Do Anything Around Here”
“To suggest that one partner ‘never’ does anything around the house is implying that if you are too busy to do housework, you must not be pulling your weight,” Bennett says. “Since kids spend a lot of time in the house, it may give the impression that a spouse who is contributing to the household in other important ways — like working long hours at a job — isn’t doing anything at all.”