“You’re exactly like your father.”
Sure, we love our parents, but no one wants to be compared to them – especially when it’s not a compliment. Marriage and family therapist Carin Goldstein says that starting a conversation with this phrase comes off as critical, judgmental and possibly insulting to your partner. She suggests spinning it differently if you want him to actually hear you. “If he’s passive aggressive and that’s how his father acts, take the comparison out – it leaves you stuck in negativity.” Instead, tackle the problem outright by saying something like, “It would really help me if you could be more direct about what you’re talking about.” The key is asking for a desired behavior, not heaping on the blame.
“I’m so fat!”
Here’s the deal: He hates when you call yourself overweight. Most likely, he loves the way you look – he fell in love with you, right? – and does not want to hear you put yourself down. Step into his shoes and think about how you’d feel if he constantly complained about his slight beer belly. You love him for so many more reasons than how he looks – especially if there’s change over the years – and it’s important to remember that he feels the same about you. If for some (crazy) reason, he happens to agree with you, he’s likely thinking more along the lines of, “Quit complaining and get moving.”
“You’re having another beer?”
So, he’s opening another cold one, and you’re not very happy about it, right? Karen Sherman, psychologist and relationship expert, says that there are two options: Speak positively by saying something like, “I recently read an article about this, and I want you to be healthy because I love you.” Come up with a plan together to avoid the problem. If you’re in public, try a signal you can flash when you notice that he’s had enough.
“Exactly when do you think you’ll be ready for kids?”
Becoming first-time parents is a serious matter, and should not be taken lightly. If you’re feeling the clock start to tick, and think he’s lagging behind, it’s time for a talk – not a jab. Robert Powell of Oklahoma City, OK, says that his wife wanted children before he did, but he was “being selfish over [his] freedom, social agenda and youth.” His wife’s simple use of the vanity card was a wake-up call for Powell. She pointed out that if they were to wait any longer to have children, their first child would not graduate high school until they were in their late 50s. “She had excellent points that I’d not considered,” says Powell. “She sealed the deal with asking me if I was getting younger. Ship sank. Here I am, 37-years-old and two kids later.”
“We need to talk.”
“These are the four words that men hate to hear most,” says Sherman. Although women often think they should let something go for the sake of the relationship, our frustrations eventually build, and come out way too intensely. Sherman advises addressing the issue when it’s actually bothering you by using phrases that let him off the hook. She likes prefacing a statement with, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to do this.” This helps him feel that you’re not accusing or blaming him. Another way to soften blow: Bring up sensitive issues while doing an activity together.
“Not tonight, honey.”
Ouch – this one stings. Sure, he wants to get busy, but what he hates most about this is the rejection he feels when you turn him down in bed. When you’re not in the mood, the best thing to do is to tell him how much you love him and that he does turn you on, says Sherman. Then explain that you’ve had a bad day and wouldn’t be doing right by him. He needs to know that turning down sex isn’t a rejection of him.
Exclaiming this never makes an argument better. Nathaniel James of New York City hates when his wife claims she’s fine. “Whatever it is that is wrong isn’t going to go away by ignoring it or pretending things are fine,” he says. “Not to mention I feel stupid that she would think I didn’t know better. Generally if I’m asking, it’s because I’m concerned and want to try and solve whatever the problem is. Not letting me do that can be very frustrating.”
“How much will that cost?”
He’s been courteous enough to consider you when making a purchase, so he deserves the courtesy of a respectful discussion. According to Goldstein, money troubles are among the most cited reasons for divorce. You can work to avoid this pitfall by being proactive rather than reactive, so that your partner doesn’t shut down. She suggests showing an interest in the purchase, and asking about the price only after you create a safe space.
“You never do this anymore.”
Research shows that women are more emotional, but men are more sensitive, which means that if a guy hears that he’s made a mistake or is inadequate, he’ll shut down or bark. If you claim that he no longer brings you flowers or chocolates, what you’re really saying is that you don’t feel valued. “The trick is to talk about how you feel by saying something like, ‘I know you’ve been really busy lately, but when I didn’t get flowers for my birthday, it made me feel like I didn’t matter to you,’” says Sherman. This will ultimately be more effective than a complaint or accusation.
“Well, my friends say…”
Newsflash: Your friends are not relationship experts. At least, they shouldn’t be experts in your relationship. Sure, it’s good to have a shoulder to cry on when you’re down and out, but it’s never a good idea to pit your friends against your spouse or partner. Josh Perez of San Jose, CA says, “I don’t mind if my wife talks to her girlfriends about what’s going on in our life, but I don’t like when she complains about me and talks about our problems.” If you’re having marital issues, take it up with a pro. You’d hate for your view of your husband during a rough patch to make your friends into haters.