"Words have huge power in relationships," so much so that even the smallest words and phrases aren't to be underestimated, says Jill Whitney, LMFT. Each little syllable has the power to inspire us, encourage us, help us, or much worse, hurt us. And their power, Whitney says, is especially poignant when coming from our partners.
"The ironic thing is we tend to be less careful about the words we use with our partners," she adds. "We may take for granted all the good things they bring to our relationship and focus on what's lacking. And because we may feel hurt or angry about what's lacking, we may speak from an impulsive, attacking place. That creates distance rather than the connection we're likely hungering for."
Of course, if you don't know what words are hurting the most, you can't stop saying them. So our experts are here with seven phrases you didn't realize could ruin your relationship.
1. "I'm sorry, but ..."
Even the most heartfelt apology can be completely negated if it's followed by the word "but," warns Cathryn Mora, relationship advisor. "It implies a lack of integrity, invalidates the apology, and turns a positive statement into a negative one," she explains. "Saying 'but' doesn't help build trust, credibility, or intimacy," which, of course, are the foundations of any healthy relationship.
2. "Yeah? Well, you ..."
Turning the tables on your partner shuts down meaningful conversation, says Whitney. "'The best defense is a good offense' may work in sports, but it's destructive to relationships," she says. "Rather than feeling heard and valued, your partner feels attacked. This feels like a threat to your connection, so he or she is likely respond from a distressed, emotional place, and the situation spirals downward. Both of you end up unhappy, and the concern doesn't get addressed."
3. "You always ..."
According to relationship expert Lori Bizzoco, the surest way to exacerbate an argument is by making blanket (and often untrue) statements about what your partner always does. "This phrase opens up to further arguments," she warns, "and will make your partner feel like you are attacking his or her character on top of whatever it is you're arguing about."
4. "I'm fine."
No, you're not. And your partner knows you're not. With that in mind, "if you need a little space to cool down after a heated exchange, that's OK," says Mora, "as long as you eventually communicate and resolve." But if you use this phrase to stonewall and shut down a conversation, "it [can be] a big red flag for a failed relationship," she says.
5. "I told you ..."
Let's face facts: "The 'I told you so' game isn't fun for anyone," says Bizzoco, including your partner. And heard enough times, he or she could harbor resentment toward you. "Using 'I told you ...' sounds like you are against your partner," Bizzoco explains. "It's much healthier for the both of you if you remind each other that you are on one another's sides."
6. "You're just like ..."
Pointing out the similarities between your partner and someone he or she doesn't want to be is a cruel kind of criticism. "This is pretty much guaranteed to get your partner's back up," says Whitney. "The immediate reaction is likely to be, 'no, I'm not,' and suddenly, you sound like kindergartners bickering on the playground."
7. "You're overreacting."
Trying to diffuse a situation with this phrase will only hurt your partner. "This phrase, along with others like, 'you're being too sensitive,' make the receiver feel his or her feelings are unjustified, and he or she feels unheard and belittled," says Mora. "It also creates a power imbalance that is never conducive to long-term happiness."