7 Common Phrases Experts Say Are Actually Damaging Your Relationship

by Kristine Fellizar
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It's been said that words can kill — and this is especially true when it comes to relationships. One may not realize it, but small words and phrases you say to your partner each day can affect the overall health of your relationship. According to experts, there are some words you can't come back from once you say them — and they can heavily damage a relationship.

"Words that are harmful to a relationship are any words that are 'disconnecting,'"Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C, psychotherapist with Avalon Psychotherapy Associates, LLC, tells Bustle. "Disconnecting words are statements and phrases that trigger defenses in your partner rather and invite empathy and connection."

These can be negative jabs disguised as "jokes," critical words and accusations when you're angry, or even be words that set up a toxic dynamic in your relationship. (For instance, "you're just too sensitive.") As Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, these are all things that are "very detrimental to building attachment."

In order to have a healthy relationship, it's important to pay attention to the things you say. Even if you may not mean for something to be hurtful, your partner can still get hurt. So here are some words that are like poison in relationships, according to experts.


"Why Did You ... ?"

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"In relationships 'Why' questions are actually criticisms in disguise," Dr. Paul DePompo, clinical psychologist and author, tells Bustle. "Very rarely are they interpreted positively." For instance, why did you do this? Why didn't you tell me you were going to do that? More often than not, these questions come off accusatory. Instead of coming at your partner with accusatory "why's," share how you feel first and then give them a chance to explain.


"You Should..."

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Most partners, and people in general, don't like being told they "should" do something. So as Dr. DePompo says, "Check with your partner before giving strong advice." Over time, this can make your partner feel like there's a power difference and that you don't appreciate what they already do.


"You Never," Or "You Always..."

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"When we say 'always' or 'never' to our partner, we usually elevate a complaint to a criticism of who our partner is as a person," Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, licensed psychologist and couples counselor, tells Bustle. For instance, "You never listen to me" or "I always have to remind you to do this." When you say these types of statements, all your partner hears is criticism. They may feel like you never see or appreciate the things they do for you. When someone feels ciriticized and unappreciated, they're more likely to shut down or get defensive. You can and should bring up complaints. However, accusing your partner of always or never doing something is not the right way to go about it. It's important to state a complain in a way that opens up a discussion. According to Lyons, "Complaints like 'When you don't look at me while I'm talking, it's hard for me to know that you're listening to me,' can help you course correct and fine tune."



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"Whatever" may not seem like a big deal, especially if you're just trying to pick a place to eat. But as Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, certified relationship coach, tells Bustle, "It can come across as though you don’t care enough to engage in the conversation." It's a dismissive word that can leave your partner feeling unappreciated or even ignored.


"Sorry, But ..."

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"The phrase 'Sorry, but...' can be very damaging to a relationship because it allows the person saying it to assign blame to their partner," Steve Phillips-Waller, relationship expert from A Conscious Rethink, tells Bustle. It says, "I know I hurt your feelings, but I just justified in doing so because you did the same thing to me." For one, it's the worst way to begin an apology. In fact, it's more of a non-apology than anything else. And two, if said constantly, this can make your partner feel like they're always to blame. "Relationships are about give and take," Phillips-Waller says. "By all means communicate your feelings or even your grievances, but don’t try to dress things up as an apology when it's not."


"Calm Down."

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"Often, one partner will say this to another in the heat of an argument," Madison McCullough, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and therapist, tells Bustle. "But while the partner saying 'calm down' usually want to deescalate the situation, these words can directly invalidate how their partner is feeling." It basically tells your partner that they're overreacting and the intensity they're feeling in the moment is unwarranted. As a result, things tend to escalate rather than de-escalate. Keep in mind that fights and arguments are best navigated through when both partners take the time to hear what the other is saying, McCullough says. So forget the phrase "calm down" and work on listening and validating your partner's feelings.


"Maybe We Should Just Break Up."

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Threatening divorce or a break-up in a relationship, is poison unless you absolutely mean it. "Many folks use it as a negotiating strategy to get what they want," Tracee Dunblazier, spiritual empath and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "In reality, it's really just bullying."

It's important to remember that what you say really does matter. Relationships hinge on healthy communication, and these phrases have no place within that.