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Nicole is an on-screen relationship and mental health expert as well as a psychological consultant for TV shows.

5 phrases to not say to your partner if you want to stay together in 2017

January 01 2017

By Donna MacMullin

How to avoid squabbles with your significant other.

You know those squabbles you have with your partner that you never saw coming? Or that never needed to happen? Sometimes, we don’t realize how an offhand comment — or the way it’s delivered — can make the other person feel. We don’t mean to wound, but something comes out wrong, or too quickly. It’s easy to get caught in these communication pitfalls, but it’s just as easy to avoid them. Here are five common phrases that are more loaded than they seem:

‘What’s the big deal?’

We’ve all been there: We say or do something seemingly harmless and are blindsided by our partner’s reaction. Before we know it, saying, “What’s the big deal?” actually turns into a really big deal. The problem is there’s a bit of judgement going on, says Nicole McCance, a Toronto psychologist and relationship expert. “You’re insinuating your partner’s feelings aren’t right or justified, and that leaves a person feeling unsupported.” She says it can be helpful to name the emotions, by saying something like: “I’m confused about why you are angry. Can you help me to understand?” This keeps a dialogue happening without dismissing your partner’s feelings.

‘Let’s just drop it’

Moments of conflict are normal in relationships—no one will agree with you all of the time. If your instinct is to cut the conversation short before it escalates, McCance says a better way to communicate this sentiment might be to ask, “Can we let it go?” “The truth is successful couples are able to let some things go,” she says. Shutting a conversation down is not the answer if something is truly bothering you, but sometimes it’s OK to agree to disagree.

‘Did you need to buy that?’

Money can be a stressful topic, but it’s important to think about the way you question your partner’s spending habits. “I always encourage couples to share their feelings more specifically, so instead [of questioning a purchase] say something like, ‘It makes me nervous when I look at our bank account,’” says McCance. If you state what you’re feeling, your partner is likely to be less defensive, “because the truth is, it’s actually your problem — you feel anxious about spending, not your partner,” and you need to help them to understand why.

‘You always do X’ or ‘You never do Y’

We all have idiosyncrasies and annoying habits. The trouble starts when these lead to resentment and nagging. “It’s hard not to say ‘never’ but it’s better to remove the absolute words,” says McCance. There’s a difference between taking issue with the behaviour, as opposed to the person. “The key for change is to point out the impact the particular behaviour has on you,” she says, adding that it’s also helpful, if you’re on the receiving end of a comment like this, to say something like “that makes me feel incompetent” to give your partner the chance to understand the impact their statement has.

‘Do what you want’

“Go for it”, “fill yer boots”, “knock yourself out…” There are many ways to express support, but if the tone is passive aggressive rather than encouraging, it can spell trouble. “This can be quite hurtful, because you’re essentially withdrawing from your partner,” McCance says. If there’s a sense of complacency and that you don’t care anymore, your partner will feel alone. “It would be better to say something like ‘I can’t get through to you right now, let’s talk later.’”

If all of this leaves you feeling like you say it best when you say nothing at all, beware: silence is a common danger zone too. “You know when your partner’s silence is a form of punishment,” says McCance. “A lot of people need to learn how to apologize or reach out to their partner. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything, but initiate some sort of physical affection, like a back rub, and that way your partner is more likely to engage.”

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