We’ve all probably said things we don’t mean and later regret. Hey, we’re humans—it’s part of our imperfect nature. While our significant others tend to be the closest people in our lives, with whom we share everything with, he or she is still someone who deserves to be spoken to with the utmost respect. For this reason, experts warn against using certain language when speaking to a boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé/e, husband, or wife. “You can’t take words back—they will continue to echo in the mind and heart of your partner,” says Wendi L. Dumbroff, a licensed professional counselor. Here are some of the words and phrases they recommend removing from your relational vocab—and what to say instead.
“Always” and “Never”
If you’re looking for words that can add fuel a fight between two people, it’s these. “Always and never statements are most often used in an accusatory and argumentative way, which leads to a defensive reaction in order to clarify the exaggeration or untruth,” says Julienne Derichs, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor. “Defensiveness breaks down communication, so you are left defending your position and not listening to your significant other, which is what they wanted in the first place.” She recommends explaining how you feel instead. For example, say things like, “When you ____ I feel ____,” or “I really need your help with something I’m struggling with.”
Ever heard of the saying, “shoulda, woulda, coulda?” While it might take on different meanings, the general consensus is that phrases involving “should” pigeonhole an individual into doing, saying, or feeling something. “This word encourages controlling and judgmental interactions,” says Derichs. “Thinking ‘should’ about your partner, or being on the receiving end of a ‘should,’ creates a negative mood and can be hurtful for any relationship, especially a loving one.” She suggests using the word “choose” in its place.
There are so many good ways to handle an argument with your significant other, but one surefire way to make things worse is to tell them to calm down. “This phrase leaves your partner feeling unjustified, unheard, and completely put down,” says Derichs. “It sends the message ‘I’m fine, but you need to calm down and relax,’ or ‘You are all alone in this.’” Instead, she suggests saying something along the lines, “Let me help you with this,” or “Can we just take a breath first and slow things down.”
“Why don’t you…”
Whatever you say at the end of this phrase will likely sound like a criticism of something your partner didn’t do, say, think, or feel. Derichs suggests trying to make a request instead. For example, say “I really appreciate when you put the dishes in the dishwasher when you’re done with them. Could you do that for me more often?’” “When you make a direct request it may feel riskier because you are putting yourself right out there stating what you need in a clear way,” explains Derichs. “This risk is that you may not get your need met, but at least it is clear what you need or appreciate or want more of, and also decreases the likelihood that your partner will become defensive.”
Unless you’re telling your partner that he or she is total perfection, Dumbroff suggests removing this word from your marriage vocab. “Perfection is an impossible goal, whether we expect it of ourselves, our partner, or we have some insane idea that our relationship must be ‘perfect,’” she says. “If you believe that everything has to be perfect, you will likely never be happy because you will forever be trying to attain an impossible goal—plus, you will also be putting pressure on your partner (and children) to attain something unachievable.” Instead, she prefers language that focuses on people striving to do their best.
This one should go without saying, but it’s incredibly ill-advised to ever mention, let alone threaten, a divorce unless you really, really mean it. You can’t take back a statement like that so easily. “I know a couple where the woman kept threatening that she was going to divorce her husband until he said he wanted a divorce,” says Elliott R Katz, author of Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants. “She never meant it and never wanted a divorce, but she got one.”
This article originally appeared on Martha Stewart Weddings.