Marriage is great. It’s beautiful, rewarding, enriching, and a lot of fun…but there are times when it’s a lot of work. This is just a fact of life: if you spend a lot of time with another person, you’re bound to bump heads every once in a while. This is why many relationship gurus say it’s important for couples to learn to “fight fair.” If you learn how to disagree without being destructive, spiteful, or downright mean, it will be much easier to handle those inevitable lover’s spats.
But how, exactly, do you fight fair? It largely boils down to what you say—or more accurately, what you SHOULDN’T say. Here are a few key phrases that can really erode the foundation of your marriage. Whatever you do, never say these five phrases to your spouse!
1. “This is your fault.”
When you’re stressed out, overwhelmed, and upset, it can be so easy to lay the blame on somebody else. After all, you can’t possibly be the one who made yourself this angry! Your spouse’s words or actions started this fight, so your spouse is to blame…right?
Simply put, we’re always responsible for our own feelings—even if someone else’s actions triggered them. Telling your spouse that something is “their fault” will only put them on the defensive, which ultimately builds a wall between you both and makes making up even more difficult. Instead of placing blame during an argument, focus on the role you play in the situation. How can you diffuse your anger? What do you need from your spouse in order to make up and move on? If you put your energy on resolution instead of pointing fingers, the disagreement can actually make your relationship stronger.
2. “You always/never do this…”
In the immortal words of Justin Bieber, “Never say never.” Simply put, it’s not realistic! People are constantly learning and changing, so no one is certain that they’ll never do anything. Saying that your spouse never does something indicates that you don’t expect them to grow over the years— and this can be very hurtful. Similarly, telling your spouse that they “always” do something you don’t like is a quick way to do damage to your relationship.
These generalizations fail to acknowledge your spouse as a flawed, learning human; instead, you’re reducing them to a laundry list of consistent failings. The next time you start to feel those words on the tip of your tongue, think of a certain Canadian pop star and push that “never” aside! (Just FYI, I do know the Biebs didn’t invent that expression.)
3. “So-and-so wouldn’t do that.”
Oof. This one is a biggie. See, I’m sure your spouse is great, but they aren’t perfect (no one is). They’re bound to have some habit, some quirk, some something that you don’t like. And, given that your life is filled with people—friends, parents, co-workers, you get the gist—there are bound to be people with qualities you wish your spouse possessed.
Even if your sister is a better housekeeper, your bestie is calmer behind the wheel, or your co-worker is better at time management, don’t compare them to your spouse. Comparison is one of the easiest ways to sow insecurity or discontent in a marriage, and that can be disastrous for your relationship.
Here’s the reality: you chose to marry your spouse. You know their very best and very worst qualities…and you agreed to love all of them when you said “I do.” Instead of comparing your spouse to other people in your life, focus on the things you love about your partner.
4. “I’m Sorry, but…”
The words “I’m sorry” can be a soothing balm after even the toughest argument. But sometimes, the hardest part of an argument is making your apology. Even if you’ve talked it out, anger and hurt feelings can simmer in your soul, and this can make it hard to own up to your side of the fight.
If you’re still fuming after an argument, you might want to add an addendum to your apology (“I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have done [insert issue here]”). But this cheapens the sentiment and makes it clear that you’re not really sorry, which doesn’t help you or your spouse move forward. In fact, it can undo all the talking and making up you’ve already done! Remember, you and your partner are in this relationship together. There’s usually blame to share in a couple’s argument, so own your part in the fight and say your apologies humbly and sincerely.
5. …Nothing at All
Ah, the silent treatment. It’s a staple of angsty teens and troubled marriages the world over. Nothing will put a wedge between you and your spouse faster than a total lack of communication, especially when you’re angry!
Think about it: when you’re not talking to your spouse, your mind has time to indulge in all your angry, frustrated thoughts. It can be so easy to work yourself into a lather, thinking up past grievances and slinging mental insults at a spouse who can’t defend themself (after all, they aren’t mind readers). Before you know it, you’re even more upset than when the silent treatment started. That’s the opposite of what you want!
Whatever you do, please make sure you never resort to the silent treatment in a fight with your spouse. As long as you’re both talking, there’s a chance that you’ll work things out—and possibly get even stronger as a couple.