A young man and a young woman who appear to be having a very serious discussion.

6 Things You Should Never Say to Your Spouse, According to Experts

Relationship gurus share the words couples should definitely NOT say to each other.


By Leah Maxwell

Good communication is the foundation of a solid relationship, and a spouse who not only talks but listens well to his or her partner will earn a stronger marriage for the effort. But what do you do if your heart is in the right place, yet your words are coming out all wrong? Or if your husband is perpetually saying things that make you wonder if he’s even met you? We asked experts for their best tips on what not to say to your spouse, as well as advice for communicating more effectively overall. Their insight into what makes people tick might shed some light on how to improve your own relationship.

1. Don’t let honesty overshadow helpfulness. “There are lots of husbands out there with foot-in-mouth disease,” says couples psychotherapist Wendy Brown. Some of the worst are those who are trying to be honest or helpful, but end up saying the wrong thing, because they don’t understand all the psychological pressures behind an issue, Brown explains. For instance, when a husband notices his wife is trying to lose weight, he might make practical suggestions that don’t take into account his wife’s complicated feelings on the subject. In other words, it’s not tied up with any emotional sensitivities or self-esteem problems for the man, whereas for the woman the topic is a minefield, says Brown.

To be honest yet tactful, try focusing on the person rather than the problem, and you’ll find it easier to say things like, “You are beautiful” instead of, “Maybe you should lay off the cookies.” And although women are generally accepted to be more sensitive than men, this advice goes both ways: Wives, be gentle with your husbands’ feelings too.

2. Don’t assume you know what your partner wants or needs. Men and women communicate differently, and that can lead to some pretty major misunderstandings, says Mary Kelly Blakeslee, PhD, a couples therapist in New Jersey. “Men tend to be more literal and often stick to just the facts, because conversation to them is about an exchange of information, while for women it is about connection -- more feelings than facts,” she says.

The key to bridging that gap: Each spouse must learn how his or her partner is wired, so it’s easier to know what to say, advises Blakeslee. But be careful not to overestimate your ability to predict what your partner needs from you. Spouses should not assume they know their partners so well that they can figure out what’s really bothering them without having to ask, Brown says. Asking about and sharing those feelings openly and during non-stressful times can help both husbands and wives step up when the going gets rough.

“Men should focus more on feelings and let their partners know they understand, and acknowledge what's been said, both literally and emotionally,” recommends Blakeslee. “Women can work more on letting their partners know what they need.” For example, tell your husband, “I just need you to listen to what happened at work today, I don't need you to tell me how to solve it.”

3. Don’t invalidate your spouse’s feelings. “One of the worst things a man can do for preserving the peace in his marriage is say things like, ‘You’re overreacting!’ or ‘When does your period start?’ or even, ‘Just relax -- it’s going to be fine!’” says Laura Doyle, a relationship expert and the author of First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors. She warns that while those kinds of phrases seem logical to a man, they can feel dismissive to women because of the subtext, which a woman might understand to mean, “You’re being ridiculous!”

Doyle says everyone has a deep need to be understood, and in many cases, that desire for validation trumps even the need to find a solution to the problem at hand. “A powerful way for a husband to respond to an upset wife without causing a fight is to use these three words: ‘I hear you,’” says Doyle. “It takes a little more discipline to respond to your spouse with a big listening ear, but the outcome is well worth it.”

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4. Pay attention! Blakeslee emphasizes the importance of couples giving each other their full attention when discussing sensitive matters. If one person is distracted and just says the first thing that comes to mind so she or he can get back to whatever else she or he was doing, that’s a recipe for disaster down the road. Couples should work more on giving time to conversation, Blakeslee says.

“Put down the tablet, look at your partner, and always ask two questions about what she has said,” she recommends. “Relay what you understand about the emotions accompanying the message. If it’s not a good time, then say, ‘Sounds like this is important to you, and I want to hear about it. Can we talk about it after I finish this letter for work?’” In short, pay attention, so you’re not just saying, “I respect you and care about what you have to say,” but you actually show that you mean it.

5. Don’t focus on the issue at the expense of your spouse’s feelings. If your husband or wife comes to you with a problem, your job as part of the marriage team should be to always keep your spouse’s feelings in mind. Instead of jumping into an issue by immediately diagnosing and/or trying to solve problem, focus on helping your spouse feel better about whatever is bothering him or her, says Brown.

Brown suggests you keep some one-size-fits-all “true and helpful” statements in your back pocket, so you can pull them out when you might not know what else to say. Doyle has a no-fail suggestion: “Asking, ‘How can I help?’ is always a winning question -- as long as you’re willing to follow through.”

6. Nothing can be better than something. At times, the best thing you can say is nothing at all. “One of the best ways we connect with our partners and show sensitivity is by listening,” says Doyle. She advises husbands especially to understand the idea that sometimes women just want to talk, not diagnose or problem-solve or be psychoanalyzed. “Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with what she’s saying, a husband who just listens, nods, and repeats the phrase ‘I hear you’ is giving his wife the space she needs to vent,” says Doyle. Brown agrees and says if you can’t think of something sensitive or supportive to say, be quiet and listen.

These six tips focus on what one partner can say to another, but it’s equally important how that second partner receives the message. Blakeslee urges spouses to remember that at the heart of it all, the relationship was founded on love. So, not always responding in the perfect way doesn’t mean your spouse doesn’t mean well.

With all that in mind, what things should you probably stop saying to your spouse?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/MarcusPhoto1


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