8 "Small But Toxic" Things to Stop Saying to Your Partner, According to Therapists
THERE ARE EASY WAYS TO SWITCH UP THESE HURTFUL PHRASES.
When it comes to relationships, the little things are the big things. Sure, it matters that the two of you align on major life goals and that you shower them with gifts on their birthday. But more important is the way you interact with them on a daily basis. Some phrases make your partner feel loved and cared for, while others make them feel neglected, rejected, and dismissed. Here, therapists tell us those negative—and sometimes toxic—phrases that drive a wedge between you and your partner. Read on for ways to rephrase for a more productive discussion.
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"Give me an example."
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If you and your partner are working through an issue and you ask them to "give you an example" of a time you behaved a certain way, you're essentially challenging them to prove that their statement is valid, explains Lauren Consul, licensed marriage and family therapist, in a TikTok video. However, there is a way this question can be productive.
"If it's coming from a place of genuine curiosity, of trying to learn from it and grow from it, then that's actually really helpful," says Consul. "There's a toxic approach that puts our partner on the defensive and creates a disconnect, and an approach from genuine curiosity and understanding which helps us grow."
"I hear you, but…"
Consul notes that the "but" in this phrase can create a rift between you and your partner. Instead, explain your point of view more clearly.
Consul suggests recasting this phrase to something like, "I hear how upset you are about this and I have a different perspective. Is it OK if I share that now?"
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Using the phrase "this again?" can cause your partner to become defensive or angry. Once that happens, your discussion is likely to go south.
"This question shows that the person who said it does not want to engage in the conversation and doesn't think that it's worth discussing as it has been discussed previously," says Natasha Deen, LCPC, NCC, a therapist at Golden Hour Counseling. "This is invalidating to a partner who wants to discuss something that may be weighing on them. It can also put the person who is asking the question in a position of power over the other person because it can feel like their thoughts and feelings are more important."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
This phrase shifts the blame to your partner. "When you say, 'I'm sorry you feel that way' after saying something to upset them, you aren't actually apologizing or taking ownership for saying something hurtful," says Brianna Morgis, PhD, LMFT, assistant profession of counseling psychology at Delaware Valley University. "Instead, you're sending a subtle message that it's your partner's responsibility or 'fault' for feeling upset."
Recast this phrase to something like "I'm sorry that I made you feel that way" or "I'm sorry that I said/did that and upset you," Morgis suggests.
"That's not something to be upset over."
This phrase discounts your partner's feelings. "Everyone will have their own reactions to specific issues, circumstances, and events and a response like this labels their emotional response as the 'wrong' one," says Ashley Weigl, LLMSW, MPH, a therapist who specializes in working with couples. "That can drive disconnection and make your partner feel alone in their distress."
Instead, ask a question. "What about this is making you feel upset? Help me understand so that I can help," Weigl recommends.
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"My best friend's partner doesn't care about this."
Comparing your partner to your friends' partners is bound to end badly. Consul recommends rephrasing this as a question that puts your partner's feelings front and center. For example, "Can you help me understand what about this is so upsetting for you?"
"Why can't you just let this go?"
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Some issues take a while to resolve—and saying this phrase can halt your progress.
"If we really want our partners to let something go, inviting a conversation in a genuine way can help. Something like 'I notice that this comes up for us often, and I want to understand why this issue feels so important to you. Can you share more and help me understand?'" suggests Weigl. "Then, listen genuinely, apologize sincerely if necessary, collaboratively work to solve the problem with your partner, and give it time." When the issue is fully resolved, it'll stop coming up.
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"If you would just calm down, everything would be fine."
Telling your partner to calm down can have the opposite effect. "When your partner hears this, they think 'I am too much for this person I love, and I can't share my true emotions with them,'" says Weigl. "The long-term effect is that your partner will retreat and withdraw, as they may become afraid of sharing deeper or more upsetting feelings with you."
Instead, tell them that you can see that they are upset and ask if there is anything you can do. "That will drive connection, make your partner feel less alone, and encourage future sharing since they know they can turn to you when they're feeling distressed," Weigl explains.