You’re already clued up on the things you should say to your one and only every day, plus the magic words that can diffuse pretty much any argument. But what about the things your partner should never say to you? Read through our list of blunders and aggressions below and you’ll never need to waste time scrolling through AITA relationship threads on Reddit again.
1. “You’re crazy!”
This one is an example of contempt, which the relationship experts over at the Gottman Institute dub one of the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. (In other words, it’s a guaranteed relationship destroyer). Contempt is best described as words or behaviors that “disrespect, mock…[or] ridicule.” Per the experts, this type of negative communication is more extreme than run-of-the-mill criticism as it entails attacking a person’s character—not just their behavior—and is used as a means of assuming “a position of moral superiority”. It’s also an example of blocking or diverting, a key sign of gaslighting in a relationship. If you think this sounds toxic, you’re right.
2. “What’s wrong with you?”
Yep, file this one under contempt.
3. “You never do [insert specific complaint].”
Don’t brush this one off as a heat-of-the-moment expression of exasperation. Your partner might not realize the damage done by this careless exaggeration, but chances are you feel it. Chanel Dokun, a certified NYC life planner trained in marriage and family counseling, tells us that ‘never’ is one of two words you should, er, never say in an argument with your SO—namely because it communicates dismissiveness and a lack of appreciation for the other person’s efforts. Not to mention, it’s probably not even true (because you do the dishes on occasion, right?)
4. “Oh, yeah? Remember that time you…?”
Weaponizing ancient (or not so ancient) history is never a constructive thing to do during a disagreement, says licensed psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook. “When one person brings up past mistakes or the other person's vulnerabilities during a ‘new fight’ this merely muddies the water and soon you’re not sure what the argument is even about.” That said, Dr. Cook adds that it is OK to bring up patterns of behavior that bother you, but only when things are calm and neither party is upset or triggered.
5. “Stop being so needy.”
The wording of this one puts it into the category of criticism—a form of communication that, per the Gottman Institute, is distinct from critique and complaint in that the “the latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack.” In other words, criticism often sounds more situation-specific and restrained than full-blown contempt, but takes aim at your character, nevertheless.
6. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
An exceedingly insulting and dismissive phrase like this is just another example of—you guessed it—contempt.
7. “After what happened last time, maybe I should be the one to pick the restaurant tonight…”
There are infinite variations on the above phrase, and they’re all pretty easy to recognize since they’re likely to feel like a dig in the moment. The reason? This is another example of rubbing someone’s face in a past mistake—and it can be as hurtful when done casually as it is in the heat of an argument, particularly when it happens on a recurring basis. “Think of those comments like layers of dirt,” says Dr. Cook. “One or two will hurt but not impede the other person’s life, but multiple layers and people will get sick of it.”
8. “Grow up!”
Remember what the Gottman Institute said about contempt being a character attack used to assert moral superiority? This one fits the bill.
9. “This is probably why your ex left you.”
Another major rule of healthy partnerships (and common decency) is not to throw salt in someone’s wound. Emotional intimacy is a major part of a relationship, so chances are you’ve made yourself vulnerable by sharing insecurities, worries, or maybe even past trauma with your partner. If your partner weaponizes any of this privileged information, it’s a very bad sign. Per Dr. Cook: “Never, ever, ever under any circumstance do you have a right to lift the flap and throw salt at your partner just because you’re hurting. Once a person has shown you their battle wounds and you purposefully hurt them more, it’s hard to regain that level of trust again.” Amen.
10. “You complete me.”
You might be thinking, aw, that’s so sweet! But check yourself—the script of a positive real-life relationship shouldn’t read like a scene from Love Actually. This sort of sweeping romantic statement is more of a red flag than anything else, since it communicates an unhealthy understanding of love and the potential for codependency.
11. “That’s it—I’m done!”
Do you or your SO have a habit of pulling a fake-up (i.e., fake break-up) during a fight? Dr. Cook describes this behavior as “writing checks you can’t cash” and explains that it is often damaging to both parties. “If you constantly threaten to leave, but don’t, you’re failing yourself and the relationship. Not only does making empty threats add cracks to the foundation of your relationship, but it may also lead to negative feelings towards yourself and contribute to cognitive dissonance.”
12. “Try not to keep me waiting for 20 minutes this time.”
See entry numbers four and seven.
13. “I don’t have time for this.”
This brings us to Gottman’s fourth horseman: stonewalling. Anytime “the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner,” it is stonewalling—but that doesn’t mean the offending party is entirely mute. Stonewalling can also refer to phrases designed to dismiss and shut down the conversation. That said, the experts at the Gottman Institute point out that stonewalling is sometimes a defensive behavioral response to perceived contempt—so if you encounter this one, it might be wise to reflect on how you’re coming across and give your SO some space before you try to tackle the issue again. If you’re communicating respectfully and the stonewalling persists, you’ve got a problem on your hands.
14. “I can’t stand you.”
Yet another example of contempt, which in case you need a reminder, is a sure-fire way to hurt your partner and destroy your relationship. In fact, it’s one of the biggest predictors of divorce, according to Dr. John Gottman. “When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean,” says the relationship expert.
15. “You really need to work on being more organized. Isn’t that how you lost your last job?”
Here, the first horseman (i.e., criticism) meets salt-in-wound…and you don’t need a chemistry degree to know that this combo spells bad news for a relationship.
16. “I wish you were more like [insert person’s name here].”
More words of wisdom from Dr Cook: Comparisons kill. Per the expert, it doesn’t matter who your partner is comparing you to, since the problem lies in the fact that “comparisons inaccurately measure worth and insinuate that one is better than the other.”
17. “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Well then let’s just drop it, I guess. Nope—you’re being stonewalled.
18. “[Friend’s name] looked really hot tonight.”
Unless both you and your partner are completely on board with this sort of thing, it can be considered an implied comparison…and a hurtful one at that.
19. “It’s just one thing after another with you.”
A searing combination of contempt and stonewalling, this phrase does double duty by a) insinuating there’s something wrong with you for expressing your needs and b) shutting down any subsequent conversation about said needs.
20. “[radio silence”]
Remember what the Gottman Institute said about stonewalling? Well, here it is in its purest and most recognizable form, friends.
21. “You’ve always been like this.”
You’ve been on the edge of your seat, wondering what the second forbidden word is (in life planner Chanel Dokun’s book, that is). Spoiler: It’s ‘always’. Because just like the word ‘never,’ this one comes across as dismissive and hurtful.
22. “The next time you do this, I’m done.”
It’s a scary threat intended to make you comply with your SO’s request or hear their complaint. But threats and ultimatums aren’t the best way to communicate about issues—and when this technique is employed regularly with no follow-through, it's safe to say your partner is (again) writing checks they can’t cash to the detriment of the relationship.
23. “You’re not the same person you were when I met you.”
Is there something wrong with you? Are you no longer lovable? Statements like this are a perfect example of contempt in that they point to what the Gottman Institute describes as “long-simmering feelings of negativity about the other partner.” It’s also important to remember that it’s completely normal for people and relationships to evolve. A nurturing partner will allow for that change (provided that it’s the good kind of change, of course—if someone changes in a way that causes emotional or physical harm then that’s a big red flag) and find ways to understand it and learn ways to manage differences.
24. “Don’t be so sensitive.”
Sensitivity is a positive trait, so the real problem here is that your partner is communicating that caring about your feelings is beneath them. File this one under contempt.
25. “That’s just the way I am.”
This sort of inflexibility in a partnership is a very bold way of saying that if you want harmony, the onus is on you. It’s also a creative way of stonewalling, since it effectively puts an end to any conversation that revolves around a healthy give-and-take.
26. “I’m working my a** off…what do you even do all day?”
Or some other equivalent phrase that equates worth to money. Per Dr. Cook, “the amount of money you bring to a relationship should not influence the balance of power and value of each member of the couple.” As such, no one should hear anything like this from a partner, because such statements “inherently devalue one person while incorrectly inflating the other’s position within the couple.” (We see you, stay-at-home parents.)
27. “Why don’t you ask [friend’s name] how she lost the baby weight?”
Another hurtful comparison, likely intended to prod at a sore spot or insecurity.
28. “Oh, I see you didn’t get a chance to vacuum today…hmm, dinner’s nice but it needs more salt…when was the last time you showered?”
Have you ever heard about the 5:1 ratio? Here’s how it works: Per relationship experts, for every negative interaction during a conflict, a happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions. So yeah, the above statements may all be true but if you don’t pepper in some loving or funny interactions in between, then your relationship could quickly enter into divorce territory.