In a mere matter of months, you and your significant other have probably gone from comparing calendars in order to spend more quality time together to bickering about who got to pick the last Netflix show and longing for an hour apart. A relationship in isolation looks a lot different than a relationship in a typical routine, and this time spent together can either help you grow together or will make you grow apart.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of communication. I’ve learned that one of the most important qualities of a happy relationship is the ability to be brutally honest, knowing that nothing you say could make your partner think less of you. I have even defied everything that you’re “not” supposed to talk about with your partner, like relationship doubts, qualities you miss about old relationships, or what you really think of each other’s families, and it has only made my relationship stronger.
However, there is a huge difference between brutal honesty and being thoughtful about your word choice. During this time, tension is running high, toilet paper is running low, and you’re probably more tempted than ever before to speak your mind a little harsher than you normally do. While I encourage you to be honest, the strength of a relationship can be built up or torn down in the wording. Here are eight things you should avoid saying to your partner, and exactly what to say instead.
1. “I cook so much more than you do, so you should wash all the dishes!”
Chores should never be about doing your “fair share” of the relationship; both of you should actively be trying to do more for the other person. But especially when you’re at home all the time, it can be easy to start to feel resentment if you feel like you’re putting in more work. Since score-keeping is never healthy for relationships, shift your focus to taking care of each other, rather than checking items off of to-do lists. Even the mundane chores like laundry or cleaning the toilet are simple acts of nurturing the life you’ve built together, so shift your focus and then help your partner do the same.
Let your partner know that you want to take care of them, and then ask them for help in the areas you need (and why you need help), rather than telling them what they should or shouldn’t do. This method will motivate your partner to see a chore as an act of care so they’ll be more likely to do more, without score-keeping or fighting.
What to say instead: “I know you don’t like cooking, so I’d love to cook most of the meals for us while we’re eating out less! Would you be able to take care of the dishwashing so I don’t feel so burned out?”
2. “You’re never there for me when I need you!”
OK, can we just all commit to never using “never” statements with our partner (yes, I realize the irony of that statement)? “Never” and “always” are blame statements and negate the times your partner did make the effort to be there for you. Remember that your partner likely has a different love language; the problem is not that they’re not there for you, but that they’re there for you in a different way than you notice.
Also, spoiler alert: your significant other is not a mind reader. Express exactly what you need, instead of blaming them for not being able to anticipate your needs. Focus on the negative emotion you’re feeling (is the news making you anxious? Are you feeling complacent at work? Do you feel extra sad lately?), and then let them know what they can do to help in the present and future, without bringing up how they haven’t helped in the past.
What to say instead: “I’ve been feeling scared lately and I need you to tell me that we’re going to be OK.”
3. “If you really love me, you would…”
As someone guilty of making past statements like, “If you really loved me, you would compliment me more!” or “If you really love me, you’ll come out with my friends tonight,” trust me. Guilt-tripping does not work. Ever. The end goal is to let your significant other know how to help you feel loved, right? Starting a discussion with “if you really love me, you would…” shifts the focus from the actual act they can do for you to proving whether or not they love you. Relationships only work when you trust the love you have for each other, without conditions. However, as previously mentioned, your partner cannot read your mind. You should express what you want, but express from a place of your love, rather than questioning theirs.
What to say instead: “I love when you…” or “I would really love if you…”
4. “You’re crazy” or “calm down!”
The easiest way to make someone crazy? Tell them they’re crazy. And the quickest way to get someone to blow up? Tell them to calm down. You know this (just remember the last time someone said this to you)! Bottom line: the way someone feels can never be wrong, so don’t make your partner wrong because they’re feeling something you cannot understand. Even if their reaction is unnecessary in your eyes, you’re always in the wrong if you don’t make an effort to sympathize with the person you love.
What to say instead: “I want to understand you and am having a hard time seeing why you feel that way. Can you explain it to me?”
5. “It’s no big deal”
It goes without saying, but this is not an easy time; we’re all stressed, anxious, sad, or bored. You might be thinking that you’re helping when you quickly respond to your partner’s worries with, “It’s fine, don’t worry!” in an attempt to ease their stress. But your partner will be worried, and it’s OK to have negative emotions (especially at a time like this). Acting like your partner’s emotions are no big deal doesn’t make them feel better; it just makes them feel like it’s no big deal to you.
For example, if your partner says they’re insecure about their appearance, a quick, “Of course you don’t look bad!” before changing the subject is well-intentioned, but brushing off anything as NBD negates your partner’s feelings and just makes them feel unheard. You should reassure your partner, but also make sure to ask follow-up questions and affirm their feelings
What to say instead: “I’m so sorry that you feel that way and I am here for you to get through this together. Tell me more about why you feel that way and what I can do to help.”
6. “Ohmygod, stop [insert annoying small habit here] already!”
At this point, you’re probably getting annoyed at small habits and quirks that you never noticed before, or even used to find endearing. Stress and anxiety can make us less flexible and more agitated, meaning the smallest things can trigger a full-on meltdown. However, snapping and scolding your partner for a habit that isn’t really “wrong” can set the stage for extra tension. If you notice yourself getting annoyed more often than usual, remind yourself that these emotions are a symptom of what’s going on in the world, not the fault of your partner. Your relationship has changed because the world has changed. What you were able to tolerate (or not even notice) before requires a conversation now.
What to say instead: “I notice I’m feeling more irritated about smaller things you do, which makes me realize I’m extra stressed these days” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been [biting your nails, short-tempered, forgetting to take out the trash, etc.] more than usual. Is it because you’re feeling extra stressed?”
7. “I feel like you…”
Every couple who has been to therapy knows you’re supposed to start with “I feel” statements to not sound like you’re coming from a place of blame. But sometimes, “I feel” statements are just “You” statements in disguise. “I feel like you just don’t care,” or “I feel like you never take the trash out,” are no less blame-y because you tack on the “I feel” at the beginning. Yes, use “I feel” statements, but make sure the “I feel” is followed by an actual emotion, not your partner’s actions.
What to say instead: “I feel rejected right now, and am worrying that you don’t care about me as much as I know you do. I also know that wasn’t your intention, but what you just said really hurt me.”
The silent treatment never worked when you and your best friend got in a fight in 6th grade, and it won’t work with your partner now. It isn’t effective in solving any conflict, and it only adds more disconnection. Even though the silent treatment is shockingly common, it actually comes from a place of insecurity; we want the other person to prove that they care about us during a moment where we might be feeling less cared for. But communication solves problems, not silence. It’s important to communicate openly and honestly to avoid buildup. If you do need some alone time to think, express that. Plan when you’re going to talk it through, so you make sure you won’t sweep it under the rug.
What to say instead: “I need some space to cool off. Let’s talk about this in an hour so I can think things through a little clearer.”