We all have phrases that we fall back on. Those go-to sentences we utter when we feel threatened or annoyed or because we’re punchy or sleep deprived and think they’re funny. Hell, some of our best material happens in those situations. But also some of the worst, and there are phrases that, whether you realize it or not, are harmful to your marriage. Some belittle your partner, others invalidate them. Others are heard so regularly in movies and shows that they seem fine. All should be avoided at all costs — especially during arguments.
“You’re acting crazy!”
This phrase is dismissive and invalidating in the extreme. It’s also misogynistic and to your significant other that their feelings are pointless and that you are smarter than they are. It also keeps couples from communicating together, as the phrase turns the argument back on one person, placing the blame on them as opposed to working together to find a solution. Used enough times in a disagreement, and it can rupture the relationship. “When someone is told, ‘you’re acting crazy,’ they will often seek love and want to find empathy, validation, comfort, and support from another person outside of their relationship,” says Katie Ziskind, a yoga teacher and licensed marriage and family therapist. “And, eventually, a new partner who can listen and hear their feelings.”
Another dismissive phrase that may be initially offered innocuously, “Just relax” also denies the other person’s feelings and has an element of judgment to it. It can make a person feel isolated and cause them to question their feelings. “When delivered haphazardly,” says Heather D. Nelson, author of Just Stop: 10 Things Everyone Should Stop Saying, “it carries a weight of disdain and almost a flippant air of snobbery that you truly don’t care that the other person is genuinely upset.” Nelson suggests trying a different approach, such as suggesting that you both take a breather and try and sit down and work out the discussion rationally.
“I’m just saying…”
This one is usually offered in the wake of some unsolicited (and usually unwelcome) piece of advice. It’s meant to cushion the blow, but it often ends up doing more harm than good. “Saying that you are “just saying” is often a way of making an excuse for passing judgment on another person,” says Dr. Nicki Nance, a licensed psychotherapist and an associate professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College. “A rule of thumb is don’t just say.”
“Who told you to say that?”
When your partner tells you something that you don’t want to hear, your first instinct might be that they were somehow put up to it. That they couldn’t possibly have thought of something so cold/cruel/outlandish as that on their own. When one asks this question, or something similar, it’s not only dismissive, it’s also deeply insulting. It suggests that their feelings and emotions aren’t their own and that they’re only parroting what someone else has already said. “Any phrase that suggests your partner isn’t thinking for themselves demeans him or her,” says Nance. “It’s a sideways approach at calling the person stupid.”
“It’s all your fault!”
This is a phrase that borders on abuse, as it shifts the power over to one person in the relationship over another. In time, the person who hears this could start to believe that everything is their fault and that all the problems with the relationship stem from themselves. “This makes the victim question everything they do, eventually they lose perspective on their value in the relationship, and as a person,” says Kandee Lewis, executive director, Positive Results Corporation. “Thus their self-esteem becomes a distant memory.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Another phrase that may come from a place of protection, but only serves to simply negate the other person’s arguments. Phrases like “Don’t worry about it,” “It’ll be fine,” or “I’ll figure it out” takes your partner out of the equation and out of the decision-making process entirely. “It’s a cliche, quick-fix statement that does not acknowledge or validate the other person’s feelings at all,” says Nicholas Cao of a psychologist Nirvana Health Group. You may think you’re taking the worry of their shoulders, but you’re just adding a slew of new ones.
“You’re too smart to think that.”
This one’s a backhanded compliment if there ever was one. You might think that you’re praising their intelligence, but you’re actually causing them to doubt it. “When you use this phrase, you’re causing them to doubt their level of reasoning or processing of the situation,” says Ta’Veca Collins, MSW, Registered Clinical Social Work Intern. “Thus leading the recipient in a position to not be able to ‘own’ their feelings/emotions.” Additionally, the phrase can come off as intimidating, suggesting that, if they’re not smart enough to pick up on whatever it is that they missed, then their partner must automatically be smarter than them. “Overall, the phrase contributes to self-doubt in the relationship and may hinder the couple from being able to be vulnerable with one another in the future,” says Collins, “for fear that one partner is viewed as being ‘smarter’ than the other.”