Sometimes, marriage and family therapist Becky Whetstone can’t help but cringe when she hears the things men say to their partners.
“Every marriage therapist has experienced a ‘cringe and wince’ factor when it comes to what couples say to each other, both in session and happenings reported when away from the therapist,” the Little Rock, Arkansas-based therapist told The Huffington Post.
Below, Whetstone and other couples therapists share the nine most obnoxious things you can say to your wife — and how to avoid each statement. (Keep in mind that these statements go both ways — men hear them, too! — but therapists say women tend to be on the receiving end of them more often than not.)
1. “You never, you should have, you ought to…”
Blanket generalizations get you nowhere in a marriage, said Whestone.
“No adult on the planet wants an unsolicited lecture about what is best for them and they certainly don’t want to be told what they lack,” she told us.
Instead of telling your spouse she always leaves globs of hair in the shower, frame it as a request: “Hey, not a huge deal but would you mind cleaning out the drain before you get out of the shower? “
2. “Calm down.”
Nothing creates emotional distance between spouses quicker than saying “just relax” or “calm down,” said Marcia Naomi Berger, a therapist.
“In essence, you are denying the validity of her feelings,” Berger said. “All feelings are valid even if you think hers don’t make sense. If she’s upset, she’ll love you for patiently listening to her express herself. So hear her out, nod and be supportive.”
3. “You’re not a guy, you wouldn’t understand.”
Stay away from sweeping generalizations about men and women, said Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist based in Pasadena, California.
“Not only is this an insult to her intelligence and experience, it creates more distance between the two of you,” he said. “It’s also an insult to you; you’re essentially saying you’re not capable of helping her understand. More than likely, you can probably explain how not getting a promotion is a blow to your self-esteem.”
4. “Did you really need that?”
While your spouse may need a financial reality check, accusing her of overspending after she already purchased something is probably not the best way to broach the subject, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men.
“Statements that suggest your spouse is irresponsible with money will likely cause her to get defensive and are unlikely to change her behavior,” she said. “It’s better to talk about spending as part of a larger discussion regarding money management for both of you, rather than making a specific ‘you did this’ statement.”
5. “That upset you? It wouldn’t have bothered me.”
This is the ultimate invalidating statement, Howes said.
“It’s one thing if you’re having a discussion of things that do and don’t bother you, but when this comes up in the heat of the moment, it feels like a slap in the face,” he said. “The subtext is, ‘you’re crazy for feeling this way, you should be more like me, unaffected by it.’ Now your wife is probably feeling rejected, hurt and possibly pissed.” Instead of portraying yourself as emotionally superior, hear your spouse out and get a real sense of why she’s upset, Howes explained. “You might just find there is a perfectly reasonable reason — and she’ll feel cared for instead of judged and you’ll have a deeper understanding of the woman you love.”
6. “OK, I got it, you don’t have to bring it up again.”
Avoid this or any other statement that could easily be read as “please, just stop nagging me,” Berger advised.
“Don’t make your spouse feel wrong because you haven’t done a chore you agreed to complete days or weeks earlier,” she said. “Instead, recognize you’ve let her down and say when you’ll do it — and then really do it.”
7. “I’m done.”
Don’t utter the “D” word — divorce or any variation of “I’m done” — unless you mean business, Whetstone said.
“This one is said so much it has become the ‘crying wolf’ phrase of many marriages,” she said. “I tell clients these are very serious words and when you’re married, they scare your spouse. Never bandy about the idea that you are leaving unless you really are.”
8. “My ex was great at parallel parking, making introductions at parties, managing her work email” — or literally anything else.
Why make needless comparisons to your ex? More likely than not, your current partner doesn’t care to hear you sing the praises of someone from your past.
“Don’t diminish your spouse as a woman by saying things that compare her to a former girlfriend,” Berger said.
9. “This dish is good — but you should get my mom’s recipe.”
This one should be obvious, but also refrain from comparing your spouse and your mom, Smith said.
“Being compared to your husband’s mother or even your own is one of the last things any wife wants to hear,” he said. “Being confident in our own abilities can be a challenge at times for all of us and a comparison to mom makes that especially hard. You can suggest an alternative, but do so without including a reference to mom.”