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Did you know that the best predictor of whether or not a marriage will last is the way the couple speaks to one another?
I learned this the hard way when my husband and I saw our marriage nearly self-destruct. Fortunately, we found a great therapist who helped us identify that our issue was the way we were communicating with each other.
We were shocked because we certainly didn’t view ourselves as verbally abusive. Not to mention that neither one of us is a yeller.
Still, we couldn’t deny that
our relationship had ongoing, underlying tension and resentment. So, we decided to explore our interactions, and it turned out that our therapist was correct. The way we interacted was causing small doses of hurt feelings and resentment that we didn’t notice were there, but were building up and causing major damage in our marriage.
Fortunately, our therapist was able to help us identify some phrases that are truly harmful, not just to marriages, but any relationships:
“I’m sorry, but…” or, “I’m sorry, if…”
When we use phrases like this our intention might be to explain that we didn’t intend to cause hurt. We might want to mitigate our actions in the eyes of the person who has been hurt so that they know that there were no malicious intentions.
Then again, maybe it’s a matter of not feeling very sorry at all. Maybe
we feel that the other person is being oversensitive, or that they just took things the wrong way. Maybe the unconscious goal is to deliver the apology in a way that makes the person feel silly for being upset in the first place.
How would you feel if you were genuinely hurt or inconvenienced and the person who caused that delivered an apology that was full of excuses and qualifications?
Instead we learned to validate, acknowledge, and then provide assurance that the harmful action wouldn’t happen again. Then, if possible, make amends.
“You are really upset because I forgot to pick up dinner and now you have to cook when you planned to relax tonight. I’m so sorry. Next time I will write it down. I’ll run to the deli and pick up some sandwiches for us.”
“You always…” or, “You never…” or, “You make me…”
Unless they end with a compliment, these phrases can damage any relationship. First of all, “you always” and, “you never” are emotionally manipulative. They’re also not very honest. Very few people never or always do anything.
Most people who use these terms are trying to make people feel bad without actually addressing the details behind their frustration or anger. Then there is the phrase, “You make me.” These are the three words that are used in an attempt to make somebody else responsible for our feelings and our behavior. Instead of lashing out at people with meaningless, but hurtful, phrases like these, be honest and specific. Let people know what it is that’s eating you. This took a lot for me to master as I tend to be more than a bit passive.
“Why don’t you just…”
It seems pretty innocent, doesn’t it? Somebody has a problem and you have a solution that you believe is quite simple. So, you offer it up: “Why don’t you just do this clearly simple thing that has worked for me in the past?” Here’s the problem. First of all, there’s a lot of assumptions being made in that statement. Here are just a few of them:
>> The person is actually soliciting our advice.
>> The person isn’t bright enough to think of a simple solution like ours.
>> That you understand all of the factors influencing that person’s situation.
>> That our solution works for the other person.
Rather than taking such an offensively dismissive approach, why not take some time to get more detail, and then ask the person if they would like to hear our thoughts. If they do, don’t imply that the solution is simple.
There might not be a more passive-aggressive, unkind, or dismissive word in the English language. This word can be used to dismiss something another person has said or how they feel, to indicate that they are not worth conversing with, and to contemptibly claim victory in an exchange without actually arguing any points of merit. It’s also a word that is used as a weapon when aren’t willing to communicate honestly. It is best to stop using this phrase entirely, especially in a new work environment.
“I’m always wrong,” or, “I’m such an awful person.”
When we use these phrases, we’re not admitting we’re wrong, we’re attempting to set ourselves up as a martyr. If someone really does feel this way, it might be a good idea to seek out counseling in order to deal with some self-esteem issues. Otherwise, this is pure manipulation. If you’ve done something wrong, and take such an extreme emotional reaction when it is pointed out to you, it turns the tables on the person you have wronged. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, they must now focus on our feelings.
What we learned in therapy was that the wronged party should be the focus. Even if the person who caused the problem is genuinely ashamed or upset with themselves, they are still responsible for their actions.
The words and phrases we choose have a powerful impact on our relationships. We should take those listed above and do our best to eliminate them from our vocabulary. Then, focus on working in words and phrases that lift people up instead. This is the way to a healthy, lasting relationship.