While there’s no secret to a blissfully perfect relationship, research tells us this much: there are things you can do to strengthen your marriage, and there are things you can do to destroy it.
Destructive behaviors such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling have been proven to negatively affect marital satisfaction and stability.
In fact, contempt is one of the leading causes of divorce. This is because contempt and other destructive behaviors chip away at the foundation of a relationship, making it difficult for a married couple to stay together.
Things to know
- Openly comparing your wife to other people could be very hurtful. Everyone's their own person, so a comparison can feel like being greatly misunderstood.
- Telling your wife to calm down can typically raise her temper even higher. That's because you've essentially told her that her feelings don't matter.
- If you say, "I'm not the problem," it can feel pretty deflating. There are always two parts to play in a marriage, and both of you are contributing to it.
Thoughtless words cut deep. Here are 10 of the worst things you can say to your wife:
- Maybe we should get a divorce then
- I'm not the problem; you are
- You're such a *insert not so nice word*
- Why can't you be more like…
- Not this again
- 'You always…' or 'you never...'
- Sorry, but…
- ‘Calm down’
- I was like this when you met me
1. Maybe we should get a divorce then
Throwing the 'd' word around is arguably the worst thing you can do. It decimates the trust you've worked so hard to build and introduces insecurity into your marriage. You should never threaten divorce to get your way. It’s cruel and hurtful and a form of manipulation.
Once you introduce the idea of abandonment into your relationship, you can't take it back. Living with the fear that you might walk out on your family will cause your wife emotional distress.
Next time you're tempted to use it as a weapon, consider what's at stake. Quite often, the word can slip out during an argument. This is why it's important to be able to recognize when you're both too angry to talk about things rationally.
When you feel yourself losing control, it's best to take a short break to rein in your anger. Don't storm off or give her the silent treatment. Reassure her that you intend to come back and resolve the issue.
When you’ve both calmed down, remember the bigger picture. You’re fighting the problem, not each other.
2. I'm not the problem; you are
It takes a lot of courage to admit that things aren't working. It takes even more courage to admit that seeing a professional might save your marriage. If your wife is suggesting couples therapy, she's fighting for your marriage.
Dismissing her in this hurtful manner is an act of character assassination that your relationship might not be able to come back from. Not to mention calling her 'the problem’ is an act of contempt that's sure to cause resentment.
While the idea of a stranger dissecting your relationship might irk you, she needs you to put your pride aside and fight for your marriage. Refusing to do so tells her that your marriage isn't a priority to you.
Your lack of investment will threaten her sense of security and have her questioning everything—including remaining married to you. She might start attending therapy without your knowledge. While getting in touch with her inner self, she might decide that your actions are too toxic to handle.
Since women are more likely to file for divorce, not meeting her halfway could spell the end of your marriage.
3. You're such a *insert not so nice word*
When you call your wife names or say mean things to her, you're being disrespectful. You’re treating her like she’s not worth your time and attacking her sense of self.
Belittling and insults are all acts of emotional abuse. These acts of emotional violence can cause significant damage to your wife’s emotional, psychological, and physical health.
She’ll get defensive and have a challenging time feeling safe with you. Over time, she’ll resent you, and you might find yourself on the receiving end of contemptuous remarks. Name-calling is never a constructive way to voice your frustrations. You’re eroding the love and respect between you and doing significant damage to your marriage.
Rather stick to factual observations about your wife’s behavior. For example, if you notice that she’s been rather irritable lately, say, “ I’ve noticed that you’ve been very irritable, is something troubling you? Can we talk about it?”
Avoid using ‘you’ statements. Focus on communicating your feelings and needs in a non-confrontational way. If you’re feeling neglected, say, “I’m feeling neglected, and I need physical connection. Can we work something out?”
If you’re both guilty of contemptuous behaviors, it’ll be hard work, but you can get your relationship in a better place. Experts recommend nurturing a sense of fondness and admiration for each other.
This means strengthening your relationship with positive words and acts of kindness every day. You may also benefit from seeing a family therapist or a relationship coach.
4. Why can't you be more like…
No one wants to hear such hurtful words come out of their spouse's mouth. You wouldn’t want her to compare you to her high school sweetheart, would you? So, don’t compare her to your friend's wife or, worse yet, your ex.
In a world full of unrealistic beauty standards and expectations, she wants to feel loved and accepted by you. Comparing her to other people will do severe damage to her self-esteem.
Comparisons are potent relationship killers. Studies show that when one partner suffers from low self-esteem, relationship satisfaction decreases for both partners. Next time you’re tempted to launch this particular personal attack, think about how it'll affect your wife’s self-esteem and your marriage in the long run.
It's not nothing, and you know it. When you refuse to communicate with your wife, you're engaging in a damaging behavior known as stonewalling. Stonewalling is a major contributor to divorce.
She loves you, and she wants to know every little detail about your life— even what you think is insignificant. When you respond to her questions with one-word answers, she feels shut out.
She might start to question whether you love her. Her self-esteem might take a knock, and the anguish of being ignored by her husband is enough to cause her emotional distress and even chronic pain.
Talk to her and be honest about what you’re going through. The last thing your wife of five and a half years wants is to hear about your mental health struggles through close friends or a social media post.
When you have a disagreement, acknowledge her concerns. Don’t try to change the topic or give her the silent treatment. Instead of shutting her out or shutting down, work with her to resolve the issue.
6. Not this again
When you say this to your wife, you’re dismissing her. You’re invalidating her feelings by implying that she's always nagging or complaining. If she hears this enough times, she’ll eventually stop trying to communicate with you.
She won't tell you what she really wants because she won’t want to come across as needy or clingy. Once she shuts down, you’ll have a hard time reaching her.
Instead of shaming her for bringing up the same issue or concern, hear her out. If it’s directly related to your relationship, finally addressing it could make for a peaceful and happy marriage.
If she’s feeling unappreciated, make her feel valued and loved. Don’t wait for her to tell you that she misses the passion you once shared. Let’s be honest; telling you she wants a romantic surprise takes the excitement out of it.
If it’s a matter related to work or any other meaningful relationship in her life, she’s probably having a difficult time. She just needs your undivided attention. Turn off the TV, and put your phone away. When you give her divided attention, you’re communicating that she’s not important to you.
Resist the urge to pass judgment or ‘fix’ the issue (unless she asks you to) and focus on simply being there for her. This will show her you care and strengthen your emotional connection.
7. 'You always…' or 'you never...'
‘Always’ and ‘never’ are best left out of your conversations. These are harsh criticisms that aren't based on fact. If we're being perfectly honest, you're only using them because you're angry and frustrated about something.
Figure out the underlying cause of your anger or frustration. Then, work on communicating it to your wife in a manner that isn't contemptuous or judgemental.
Be factual when you present your concerns. Your wife is less likely to go on the defensive. Instead of saying, " you always neglect me," try saying something like, " I miss you; we haven't spent much quality time together this week."
Your wife isn't a mind reader, so it's essential to avoid making vague requests. Tell her exactly what you need. If you're feeling overwhelmed and you'd like her to help you out, ask her. Don't say something like, "you never consider how stressful my job is."
If the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ leave your wife’s mouth, understand that she might also be feeling a little frustrated. You aren’t a mind reader either, so encourage her to be more open about her needs.
This means changing how you respond to her requests and concerns. If you get defensive, she might not feel comfortable opening up to you. Instead, make her feel safe and heard.
Create an environment where you can communicate openly and honestly. As a result, frustration won’t build up, and you’ll be less likely to use absolutes with each other.
8. Sorry, but…
Saying sorry and following it up with a ‘but’ isn't an apology. A proper apology involves acknowledging your actions. It's about being remorseful of how your behavior is affecting your wife. Whenever you shift the focus from yourself, you’re invalidating her feelings.
If you're going to apologize, you've got to be sincere about it. Don’t do it to shut her down or dodge uncomfortable conversations. Otherwise, you're just compounding the problem.
Avoid dismissive phrases like, ‘that’s not what I meant,’ or ‘I didn’t say that.’ You’re engaging in emotionally abusive behavior known as gaslighting. Such phrases are manipulative and can leave your wife questioning reality. Apologizing is meant to be a reparative process, not an opportunity to dismiss or criticize each other.
9. ‘Calm down’
You might think it’s helpful to tell your wife to calm down when she’s upset about something, but it isn’t. It always has the opposite effect. When you minimize her emotions, she’s likely to get defensive. She’ll feel like her feelings don't matter and shut down. She might even respond with anger or hostility.
Your wife should feel safe confiding in you. When she has a problem, she should be able to tell you about it without the fear of being judged or criticized.
The last thing she wants to hear is that her issues are trivial. Hearing these words from the man who should be her best friend and biggest supporter is a painful blow. If you really want her to feel better, try not to tell her how to feel or react. Let her vent and encourage her to tell you how she would like you to be there for her.
If she’s upset with you about something, acknowledge her feelings and listen to her concerns. Then, work on resolving the issue together. Remember, your marriage needs to be a safe place for her to express herself. If you dismiss her, she’ll stop opening up to you. You’ll drift apart, and your relationship will suffer.
10. I was like this when you met me
Fulfilling relationships are about growing together. Your ‘take it or leave it’ stance tells her that you don't care enough to make a few changes for the good of your marriage. Saying this tells your wife that you have little regard for her feelings. You see nothing wrong with your behavior, and you're unwilling to address her concerns.
Complacency usually introduces contempt into a marriage. If you value your marriage, listen to her. Work on yourself, grow and become a better version of the man she fell in love with.
Keep in mind that when it comes to a happy marriage, your habits and the things matter. She might act like celebrating special occasions isn’t a big deal. But, deep down, she's hoping you’ll surprise her with a thoughtful gift. She's even hoping that you’ll have something romantic planned.
Lastly, never stop pursuing her. Grand gestures aside, coffee with a kiss good morning or a simple ‘I love you text’ is enough to make her day. Telling her she looks beautiful will do wonders for her self-confidence. Appreciating the things she does for you will make her feel valued. Simply listening to her will make her feel loved.
When Your Spouse Says Hurtful Things
Simply put, if you want a successful marriage, don’t insult, belittle or ignore your wife.
However, it works both ways; if she's dishing out some of these, understand that she’s mad about something. Stay calm and try to get to the bottom of it—avoid retaliating.
Remember, the goal isn’t to outwit each other but to preserve your marriage.