14 things you should never say to your spouse

We’ve all said something to our mate that we regret – but toxic phrases can harm a relationship to the point of irreparable damage.

By Stacey Feintuch. All images: Readers Digest

Don’t threaten divorce

When you threaten divorce, you may regret it later. “It shows that you’re not truly committed to the marriage lasting forever, making your spouse feel rejected and preventing them from feeling safe loving you,” says Tracey Steinberg, author of Flirt For Fun & Meet THE One. But once it’s been said, the damage has been done to your marriage, even if it’s an idle threat. You’re telling your partner that you have one foot out the door. And it will eventually take its toll on him or her. “Divorce is never something to be expressed unless you’ve explored every avenue of making it work together,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist and relationship expert. “Just the mention of it in jest can cause serious hurt and doubt in someone’s mind and serious damage to the relationship.”

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Don’t call him or her a liar

“Trust is imperative for a successful relationship,” says Hall. If you suspect he’s being untruthful, telling him straight out that you don’t believe him will usually backfire. Instead, say, “I’m having trouble believing you’re telling me the entire story.” It’s less inflammatory and accusatory. Focus on asking questions about a particular incident to fully open the lines of communication. “The idea is to listen rather than fire off harsh statements,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, the Dating Expert for “By gathering all the facts first, you’ll be in a much better position to understand your spouse’s behaviour and then react appropriately.”

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Don’t tell them how to react to something

In the same vein are also “Calm down,” “Don’t get so defensive,” and “You’re being too sensitive.” Sometimes people make comments like these to stop their partner from being so upset – but it can make the person feel like their emotions aren’t justified, valid, or being heard. “You want your partner to feel safe showing and voicing their vulnerability without fear of judgment,” says Laurel House, a dating and empowerment coach. So, they may get even more mad. “If your intent is to make them less upset and agitated, you’ll have the exact opposite outcome,” says Lloyd. “These phrases are perceived as demeaning directives that belittle and degrade your partner.” And they’ll respond with anger, volatility and hostility. “Rather than telling them how to feel and react to the matter at hand, you’ll be better able to resolve things by letting them vent and listening carefully to what they’re saying,” Lloyd says.

Don’t be passive aggressive

It’s likely obvious that something is wrong. So, when you say “nothing,” you’re being passive aggressive, and you make it seem like you’re afraid of bringing up something that could start a fight. That’s why you’re encouraging your partner to start one for you. “Fighting can be a healthy part of a long-term relationship,” says Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author of Cheat on Your Husband (with Your Husband): How to Date Your Spouse. “It’s not that you fight but how you fight. Don’t worry about disagreeing or not being on the same page,” says Syrtash. “When you communicate through your differences – and actually hear each other – you’re likely to make breakthroughs and/or find common ground.” But when you avoid fighting, the issue is likely to worsen. “Being able to communicate your feelings is the only way to work through the inevitable conflicts between you and your sweetheart,” says Hall. “Acting like nothing is wrong is a lose-lose situation that will lead to frustration and could easily escalate the issue at hand.” Instead, sit down and talk it out as calmly and respectfully as possible.

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Don’t dismiss feelings

When you say “whatever,” it can make your mate feel like you’re minimising and dismissing their feelings. “There’s nothing positive or upbeat about saying ‘Whatever,’” says relationship expert and coach Julie Spira. “It usually comes with the tone of a disgruntled spouse.” Men, in particular, are programmed to please and be the hero, says Spira. So, when they’re asked ‘What’s wrong?’ it can catch a man off-guard, especially if he thinks he’s been keeping you happy, she says. “The best thing you can do if he responds with nothing is just smile,” says Spira. “Whatever problems were brewing just might dissipate with a smile and hug. When he’s ready to talk, he’ll let you know.”

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Don’t speak in absolutes

“You’re always late.” “You never put away the laundry.” When you use these phrases, they’re rarely truthful or productive, and always hurtful. You’re telling your partner that they can never do anything right and that you don’t think they can change. “When you say these words, you’re essentially making a character assassination,” says Syrtash. Studies show that when you put your partner’s character down, you’re even more likely to head for divorce. Next time, Steinberg says, “Sweetly ask for exactly what you want and tell them how happy it would make you.” You might say, “Sweetheart, it would make me so happy if you pick up your socks from next to the bed in the mornings.”

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Don’t test their love

“When you start a sentence this way, you’re putting your partner on the defence,” says Syrtash. “This is a passive-aggressive way to communicate your needs.” Your partner shouldn’t feel pressured to do something to prove their love or that they don’t want to do. “You’re testing your partner when you say things like this,” says Syrtash. “Your partner shouldn’t feel like they’re on trial to prove their love.” Instead, make a request in a non-confrontational and direct way. “Approach your parter authentically, and in a way that connects you, rather in a way that creates a divide,” says Hall. You might say, “I miss spending time with you, and I’d like to go out to dinner this weekend.” That phrasing will likely get you what you want.

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Don’t insult their career

When you’re in a relationship, you shouldn’t have to earn respect. Rather, it should be given unconditionally. That’s why you’re being offensive and insulting when you say comments like “I’m going to do it anyway; I don’t care what you say” or “You look like you’ve put on a few kilos.” Your partner thinks you’re saying they’re not good enough. “You don’t want to belittle, put down or marginalise your partner,” says House. “You’ll be initiating insecurity, defensiveness, resentment and anger. You’re cracking the foundation and those cracks go deep and can be hard to repair.”

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Don’t make them feel dumb

This is a classic example of something you shouldn’t say, pretty much ever. No one likes to be told they’re dumb or feel belittled. “The unspoken and unwelcome message is that you’re smarter than your partner,” says Lloyd. “This type of comment does nothing to remedy the situation at hand.” When things go how you predicted rather than how your spouse expected, they are more than aware of the outcome, says Lloyd. And they don’t need to be reminded.

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Don’t be overly sarcastic

“The dishwasher won’t get unpacked on its own.” “Do I look like a babysitter?” Words of sarcasm may seem harmless at first, but they can be used to dig at your partner and communicate that you’ve been frustrated by an unmet expectation. “Sarcastic comments that put your partner down will erode the relationship and are likely to leave your partner feeling frustrated,” says Hall. She suggests that you deal with the issue from a loving and genuine place, which is more likely to be heard by your partner.

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Don’t be their biggest critic

“While ‘stupid’ isn’t a curse word, it’s hurtful,” says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert and author. “It’s often worse than any other word.” The same goes for “What’s wrong with you?” “What kind of father/mother does that?” or “That’s an awful idea.” Your partner wants you to be his cheerleader, not feel like you’re on different teams or that you don’t believe in him. You shouldn’t be his biggest critic, but rather, his biggest fan. “Supporting your partner is an essential part of a happy, healthy and successful relationship,” says Hall. “Unsupportive phrases will wear on your partner’s self-esteem, and ultimately, the relationship. Show you care about your partner, and they’ll be far more likely to want to be supportive and caring back.”