Healthy communication is consistently cited as one of the most important elements of a successful marriage. And while that might sound easy enough, many of the common phrases we say in our daily lives can get in the way of achieving the goal of keeping an open dialogue between spouses. In particular, there are certain sayings that are pretty much guaranteed to go over badly with men for one reason or another. Whether it’s in the midst of an argument or just in casual conversation, here’s what experts say should be avoided at all costs when talking to your husband.
1. “We need to talk.”
Yikes. Even if you really do need to talk, this isn’t a great way to start a serious conversation. “This is really the king of all phrases that strikes dread in the hearts of men,” says Jill Murray, PhD a licensed psychotherapist and author. “It always means that there is going to be a difficult conversation, and it’s probably not going to go well for the man. The fear of the unknown and the accompanying dread makes it worse.”
2. “You should know how I’m feeling.”
No matter how well your husband knows you, he probablycan’t guess your exact emotions. “Humans aren’t natural mind readers, and guys tend to be less socially and emotionally aware than women,” notes David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert. “So, your husband may not know what you’re feeling unless you tell him, and having him guess when you could tell him just comes across as if you’re playing a game.”
3. “Why don’t you ever…?”
“No matter what the end of this question is, it is already overflowing with negative connotations and shame before the subject is even delivered,” notes Britanny Burr, a love and relationship expert. “Asking someone why they don’t do something that you would like them to do is not going to make them want to do it; it is merely shaming them and making them feel poorly about something they may not have known you wanted.” So instead of saying: ‘Why don’t you ever take me out to dinner anymore?’ Try: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to go for dinner sometime this week?’
4. “I hate your friends.”
Even if you’re not crazy about his buddies (or perhaps one buddy in particular), it’s best not to just flat out say that you hate them. “Men’s friendships with other men are tenuous. It’s even harder to extend these relationships once a man is in a committed romantic one,” explains Justin Lioi, LCSW, a men’s mental health and relationship expert. “There are limits, and a woman should certainly not put up with negative demeaning behavior, but many of the men I work with feel isolated outside of their primary relationship.” So even if you’re not crazy about your husband’s friends, as long as they’re not disrespectful, it’s better not to mention it.
5. “You need a better job.”
“No one needs to hear things in a direct way that makes them feel bad about themselves,” says Stef Safran, a dating and matchmaking expert. Regardless of whether you think they can do better on the career-front, saying it this bluntly won’t get you very far. “You need to find ways to talk to them without putting them down. Suggesting some goals is a better way to deal with them instead of flat out stating something negative about them or their habits.”
6. “You never help around the house.”
“This is one of the worst things you can say to your husband, says Erica Gordon, dating coach and author. “Even if you feel as though he doesn’t do much to help around the house, he most likely does some things, and so by saying that he never does anything you’re showcasing that you don’t notice when he does do things.” The best way to ask him to do more is to acknowledge what he’s already done, praise him for it, and after doing that, simply ask for help with specific tasks when you need it.
7. “We need some space.”
Much like number one on this list, this phrase indicates that something is very, very wrong. “While this can often be a useful strategy in a relationship, it’s important for both partners to understand why some time apart could be useful,” says Alex Hedger, a cognitive behavioral therapist and Clinical Director of Dynamic You Therapy Clinics. “Unless both fully understand the rationale and the possible benefits that could come from downtime, then it can seem like a threatening thing to hear in a relationship.” Sometimes saying something like “we need some space” can be heard as “I’m getting ready to end our relationship.”
8. “You’re not listening to me.”
“Instead of assuming they didn’t hear you, you can nicely ask if they are listening,” says Rori Sassoon, matchmaker and CEO of PlatinumPoire. Instead of starting out with an accusation, check in with them and ask them what they have going on that has them distracted.
9. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
This might seem like a non-dramatic thing to say, but it can actually make them feel worse about whatever is going on. “Studies show that the silent treatment is harmful to relationships,” Bennett notes. “If your husband wants to know what’s wrong, and your go-to response is to shut down the conversation, it’s going to make him frustrated and hurt.”
10. “What are you thinking about?”
“Men usually aren’t thinking about anything that would remotely interest woman: who’s going to win the Super Bowl, what was the name of that cute server at Applebee’s 15 years ago, am I going to have sex tonight, etc.” says Dr. Murray. Plus, asking this question can put a lot of pressure on them to come up with something acceptable quickly. “Men usually aren’t thinking about the ‘right’ thing that women want them to think about: the woman, their relationship, planning her birthday dinner. So, there isn’t going to be a correct or good-enough answer to the question and he’s destined to fail.”
11. “You’re being ridiculous.”
It’s not always easy for guys to share their feelings, so saying something that invalidates them in this way is a no-go. “Being heard, empathized with, and ‘validated’ are crucial to a healthy relationship,” Hedger says. “Statements like ‘you’re being ridiculous’ demonstrate that someone is either struggling to or unwilling to empathize. This often leads to a position of confrontation with the other partner feeling that they have to justify their thoughts or feelings.” Hedger suggests sticking to “I” statements instead of “you” ones in moments of conflict. For example, ‘I don’t understand why you feel that way,’ would be a good substitute, here.
12. “I hate your family.”
“He may hate his family, too, but deep down he knows that he came from them and they are a part of him—whether they are actively present in your life or not,” Lioi says. “This comes down to identity. Talk about the qualities in his family that you want to make sure the two of you don’t replicate, but just a blanket condemnation of people may get in the way of him working through his own feelings for the flawed parents or siblings he has.”
13. “You better…”
“Unless this is said playfully and in the bedroom, this phrase will likely not go over smoothly,” Sassoon says. If you want him to do something, just ask nicely.
14. “This is your fault.”
Placing all of the blame on someone else isn’t a great way to work through problems, especially when the person you’re speaking to is a guy. “Making a blanket statement of blame can cause a man to unplug from the marriage,” says Michelle Frankel, Founder & Chief Love Officer of NYCity Matchmaking. “It is extremely important for couples to solve problems as a team, rather than hold one partner responsible. If you want to make changes to how they might have done something, there are much better ways to say it.”
15. “If you don’t like it, leave.”
Ultimatums don’t generally go over well with husbands. “This all-or-nothing approach to relationships is a manipulative conversation-killer, as it leave you with no reasonable way to respond,” says Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist. It’s best to avoid this kind of demand at all costs.