By: Sarah Jones
Most articles on what not to say to your partner circle around avoiding taboo topics and off-limits prodding. While those tips are certainly helpful, there are deeper, more cutting questions that are even more crucial to avoid.
If all you do is steer clear of these 10 questions, your relationship will be dramatically more fulfilling and rewarding than average.
1. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you always doing that?”
It’s never a good idea to make a negative judgment or a blanket condemnation of your partner. All that does is reinforce the exact negative behaviors you’re trying to change because your judgments incentivize them to isolate from you.
Rather than attacking your partner personally for what you don’t like, share what you do like and how you would feel or do feel when they do those things. You might have to get introspective and creative to find out why certain things are so important to you.
For example, let’s say they often leave the cap off the toothpaste. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you always doing that?” you can say, “Honey, can you please put the cap on the toothpaste more often? It might seem silly, but when you do that, I really feel cared for by you.”
Then, the next time they put the cap on, feel that joy of being cared for, and let it make you happy. Go give them a big hug and kiss. Tell them you know it’s a small thing, but you really appreciate it. When your partner feels appreciated by you, they’ll want to do more and more of what you like to continue the positive vibe between you.
2. “Why do you never do what I want?”
Blaming is not sexy. It creates an atmosphere of hopelessness, resentment, distrust, and separation in the relationship. Not only is it harmful, it’s ineffective as well.
When have you ever seen someone flip their life and personality around because they felt blamed enough? People sometimes change because they feel bad enough and hit rock bottom. In those moments, they find the inner strength to carry them into a new way of life. Don’t be that catalyst that gets your partner to rock bottom, though. There are other ways to create the same effect that are much more reliable and constructive.
Whenever you’re upset at your partner, focus first on taking responsibility for your own feelings, thoughts, and actions. Take ownership of your part of the equation. Instead of dwelling on what you think your partner is doing wrong, shift your focus to how you might be able to improve the relationship.
Once you’re more solution-minded and you’re clearer on the situation as a whole, approach your partner with open, transparent communication and a collaborative stance so you can find a solution that makes both of you happier.
3. & 4. “Why are you so (annoying, lazy, ungrateful, selfish)?” / “Why aren’t you (better, kinder)?”
When you’re upset, don’t personally attack your partner. It’s just not helpful. You’re with them, the whole package of them. They’re with you, the whole package of you. If you’re together, then you’re a match on some level.
If you want the quality of your relationship to improve, it starts with how you communicate. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, says that the most helpful way to communicate with your partner is to honestly express and empathetically receive.
Honestly express how you are and what you would like, without using blame, criticism, or demands. When your partner speaks to you, focus on empathetically receiving how they are and what they would like, without hearing blame, criticism, or demands.
This kind of communication is based on openness, honesty, and understanding, which nurtures the relationship. You can learn more about Rosenberg’s simple four-step Nonviolent Communication process here.
5. “Why can’t you just relax?”
If your partner is in a fight or flight response, they can’t “just relax” on command. If they’re stressed, something is bothering them. Otherwise, they would be relaxed.
There are a myriad of reasons why your partner might be upset, and even though you would naturally want them to be more relaxed, saying that curtly in the heat of the moment is unlikely to get the result you’re going for.
The best way to help them become more relaxed is to seek to understand. You must first understand something before you can go about changing it. Sometimes understanding is all that is needed.
When you are open, curious, and gentle about what is actually going on for your partner, that is a clarifying and helpful step. Once you are talking together in that kind of supportive atmosphere, you’re setting yourselves up for success.
6. “Are you breaking up with me?”
Using this question in everyday conflicts is an unnecessary and emotionally destructive threat.
As Eben Pagan & Annie Lalla said at Burning Man’s Camp Mystic in 2014, oftentimes people ask that question not to gain genuine clarity but to escalate the conversation by introducing the threatening possibility of break-up themselves.
if you actually want to break up right there, then you can say so and follow through with it. Otherwise, ask genuinely clarifying questions of the other person. If it feels too heated right then, take a step back, reevaluate as objectively as possible, and discuss the matter again once the atmosphere has calmed.
If you really are afraid your partner is breaking up with you, you can say simply, “Honey, I’m afraid. Let’s take a few minutes and come back once I’ve calmed down.” Once you’ve calmed down a bit, you can ask, “What are you feeling right now?” or, “What do you want?” or, “What do you want in our relationship?”
When you ask those questions in a non-threatening way, you give your partner space to think constructively about the answers. The one time, if ever, that your partner actually does want to break up, they will say so. Otherwise, asking these clarifying questions openly and gently strengthens the intimacy in your relationship.
7. “Are you sure you want to be with me?”
While it is important for the health of a relationship for each partner to praise and cherish the other, each partner is responsible for their own basic level of self-respect and self-confidence.
As relationship coach Jordan Gray says, expressing interest in your partner as a person and on a day-to-day level and affirming that you find them attractive is key to a satisfying relationship.
At the same time, Dr. David Scharch, author of Passionate Marriage, points out that it’s hard to be sexually attracted to someone you constantly have to prop up. If you need constant validation on a basic level, then before long, it will be difficult for your partner to admire or respect you.
The solution is to make sure that you would want to be with you, and that you already enjoy being yourself. When you feel great in your own skin, it’s much easier for you to have the clarity of mind to actually assess whether the person you’re with is a great match for you and genuinely appreciates you.
8. & 9. “Can I trust you?” / “Are you telling me the truth?”
Asking this question point blank is never a good idea. For one thing, it puts your partner on the defensive immediately. For another thing, you can never trust the answer you’re getting.
This is because if you’re not fundamentally sure you can trust someone, then asking them whether or not you can trust them will only drive you crazier.
When it comes to people getting jealous and possessive in relationships, Mark Manson, author of Models, says, “It’s really simple: either you trust your partner or you don’t. If you trust your partner, then shut your mouth. If you don’t trust your partner, do everyone a favor and dump them.
“‘Well, what if I trust them but they lie to me anyway?’ Then trust that one day you will find out. Dishonest people cannot hide their dishonesty forever. Eventually it will surface and be obvious. And on that day, dump them.” Kind of harsh, but definitely straightforward.
10. “If you knew it would make me uncomfortable, then why did you bring it up?”
A quality relationship does not settle for the pseudo-comfort of avoidance. It thrives on the genuine comfort of two people who are transparent with each other and themselves for the purpose of deepening intimacy and fulfillment.
In order for your relationship to thrive, you have to be willing to talk about difficult and uncomfortable things and comfort yourself when the topic at hand feels confronting.
As Dr. David Schnarch suggests, in order for an emotionally committed relationship to be fulfilling, we have to be willing and able to soothe ourselves independently within the relationship.
It is challenging to self-soothe and self-confront at once. That is for sure. It means coming to terms with the parts of us that we may not like to see so much, like our own fears, anxieties, and insecurities.
It is as rewarding as it is difficult, though.
Taking a look at what’s really going on inside with openness and curiosity means an ever-improving relationship and an ever-improving life.