5 tips on things NOT to say to help promote good communication with your partner.

Author Dr Katja Hajek, clinical psychologist and relationship expert.

My first question when I see a new couple is to ask,  “why did you decide to seek couple therapy?” Invariably I hear something like: “we’ve stopped communicating”, “he/she takes it in the wrong way” or, “ he/she is not listening to me”. I’m then told how discussions can quickly turn to arguments. Communication is a skill, and we can all keep learning!

Let me describe some common pitfall I hear form couples and how to avoid them.

1. Asking  “ What is wrong?!?”

A seemingly innocent question can cause offence. It is not so much the words as the tone of the question. Sometimes there is an aggressive tone to it, or an implication that there is something wrong with you – implying – you are indeed sulking again? Or you are in a bad mood again? No one likes to be blamed for not appearing happy. Instead, simply inquire, but try to keep your tone high. Say instead, “It seems that you are not very happy, can I help at all?” This question does not assume there is anything wrong, it tries to be helpful, so is less likely to trigger any defensiveness.

2. Comparing your partner to others: 

Statement like “‘you’re turning into your mother”,  will never go down well, and often causes hurt and an argument. No adults, or for that matter children, ever like to be compared. Instead try to explain what is upsetting you without any comparisons, leave others out of it!

3. Assuming your partner will know what you are thinking.

It is surprising how often people tell me that they think their partner should know what is on their mind. Sadly, not many people are mind readers.

I hear form couples “I was silent, he/she should know what this means”. This is communication without communicating. Your partner may not have a clue what you are thinking. Tell you partner how you are feeling and what is on your mind. If this feels too hard try writing to them.

4. Saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it!’

Avoiding a subject is rarely helpful, it just stores it for another day. This statement blocks a conversation your partner is trying to have and implies maybe that you are not willing to listen. What your partner is trying to discuss maybe a difficult issue that upsets them. By blocking discussion, you prevent any improvements leaving your partner frustrated, or even angry. Maybe you can start by listening without interruption, you do not need to solve it all today. Maybe promise to think about what they have said and agree a further time to share your thoughts at a later point in time. It may be a difficult conversation, but at least you allow your partner to explain, or just to talk about their feelings which will be important in feeling valued by you.

5. Using absolute language.

When you say phrases like “you always, never, should”, they are absolute and will make your partner object immediately. Your partner will fight against it, as noone “always” does something, or “never” does another. Keep it much more tentative, instead say, “it seems to me this happens quite a lot, mostly happens, more often than not happens”. Better still just tell your partner directly what you like them to change in future. Also, when we use words like “you” we can position our partners against us, “you vs me” language, inadvertently setting us up into different camps. Rather than saying “you did this”, say “when this happens….”, or “when that occurred….”. Word are really important, learn how to stop triggering a fight, keep the unhelpful words out! 

Couple therapy can be a vital training ground to understand some of the rules of healthy communication styles and how to avoid the pitfalls. If you would like to find out more contact Dr Katia Hajek at UKPsychologists.uk today