Insights from my San Diego Marriage Counseling Practice
or The Poison Tongue: The 5 Worst Things You Can Say to Each Other
Karen Gless, Ph.D.
If you want a happy relationship, there are 5 things you need to never say. In my San Diego marriage counseling practice I hear these relationship killers all the time. Too often couples deliver the "zingers" that seem so perfect at the moment, but are so painful that the couple stops listening to each other. Look at these and see if they sound familiar. If they are you may want to change some of the things you say so you can enjoy a more loving relationship.
1. You're so stupid, you idiot
Name calling is an especially painful way to communicate. We learned name calling and insulting as children and it is a childish way of communicating. There are more adult versions like, "What's the matter with you? Why can't you understand?" which have the same damaging effect. The implication is the same, there's something wrong with you or you would agree with me. The response is usually another insult and the argument goes downhill from there. One of the first things I do in my San Diego marriage counseling practice is have my couples absolutely stop insulting each other.
2. You don't really feel angry (sad, afraid, etc.)
This is an example of mind reading, telling someone how they are thinking and feeling. Though we may not agree with the way our partner feels about something they still have a right to feel however they feel. In my San Diego marriage counseling practice I establish a safe environment and part of that is making it OK to have the feelings you have. It's just as damaging to expect your partner to read your mind as in, "You should have known what I wanted. Don't you care about me?" You have to say what you want or don't want. Good communication begins with each partner accepting the others feelings and experiences as valid.
3. Silence (Followed by slamming door)
What we don't say is just as important as what we say. Refusing to discuss something is called stonewalling and in my San Diego marriage counseling practice we see this as very damaging to a relationship. Abruptly stopping a discussion can be very frustrating. Some couples need to get away from each other for a while to calm down and get their thoughts straight. When a disagreement is too frustrating or too emotional it is better to say, "I need some space. Let's stop and pick this up later." And it is very important to pick up the discussion later.
4. If you really loved me, you would...
This maneuver presupposes how a person should act. In my San Diego marriage counseling practice I point out that presuppositions set the partner up to be unloving, uncaring or wrong. Openers like, “If you were a decent person...” or “If you cared one little bit for me...” put the other person on the defensive and distract from the real issue. I tell my couples in counseling to say what they really want like, “I’d like it if you helped with doing the dishes.” without the unpleasant lead in.
5. A real woman (man) would...
This is an example of stereotyped role expectations. People learn what it means to be a man or woman in their families. But different families have different role expectations and the world is changing very rapidly. When couples in my San Diego marriage counseling practice with me are stuck in old patterns I ask them, "Are these really your expectations or are they just what your grew up with?" I let them know that they have to create their own relationship together and not just imitate what their parents had.
These five communication patterns are poisonous because they hurt emotionally and block discussion of the real topic. If I had to identify the one pattern that leads to the most arguments it would be making an assumption. We tend to assume that our way of thinking and feeling is the only right one. When I get couples to drop their assumptions and talk about what they really want, they are often surprised at how quickly they can resolve old arguments. I know through experience that marriage counseling helps so if you are stuck and can’t make the changes needed please contact me I am Dr. Karen Gless, Ph.D. 858-273-2980.