The Words & Phrases You Shouldn't Be Saying To Your Partner For A Healthy Relationship

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Remember that rhyme from childhood? It might've helped you overcome a bully in fifth grade, but it doesn't hold up quite as well in healthy adult relationships.

Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman claims to be able to predict which married couples will divorce using his "four horsemen" relationship theory. The theory focuses on four toxic behaviors — criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling — and they all relate to what we say (or, in the case of stonewalling, don't say) to our romantic partners. Put another way, words can be impactful, and they have the power to tear a relationship apart.

And here's the thing: Harmful words aren't always obvious. You probably already know that insults and verbal assaults have no place in your relationship, but even well-intentioned or seemingly innocent words and phrases can take a toll. If you're committed to building a healthy relationship with your significant other, remove these sayings from your vocabulary.

'I'm sorry, but...'

In every relationship, things will occasionally go wrong, and there are times when you'll be at fault. The healthy, mature response is to own up to your actions and apologize. However, tagging "but" to the end of your "sorry" can completely defeat its purpose.

As Dr. Harriet Lerner, a psychotherapist and author of "Why Won't You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts," writes on Psychology Today, the b-word "nearly always introduces a criticism or excuse" — two things that really don't belong in any apology. For example, you might say, "I'm sorry, but you weren't clear with me" to point the finger at the other person, or you might justify your actions with something like, "Sorry, but I was having a bad day."

A bad or insincere apology might make your partner feel ignored or resentful and will likely do little to repair the conflict at hand. So how do you make sure your apology is effective? Say sorry, validate and empathize with your partner's feelings, and take action to right your wrongs.

'Always' and 'never'

Exaggerating with words like "always" and "never" is something that most of us are probably guilty of, especially when tensions are running high during an argument. A little dramatization just helps you make your point, right? In reality, these blanket-statement words can actually do a lot of damage in a relationship.

"['Always'] assumes permanence in your friend, family member, or partner, which unfairly assumes that their growth in this area is fixed and limited," Andrea Hipps, licensed baccalaureate social worker and certified divorce coach, explained to BestLife. "Assigning what someone 'always' does or doesn't do essentially alerts them that while you think this area needs attention, you also think they will be incapable of contributing to its resolution."

The same can be said of "never," a word that often downplays the other person's past efforts and contributions to the relationship. Moreover, "always" and "never" statements are typically criticisms that attack the other person's character ("You're always late" means "You're unreliable"), rather than a complaint about a specific behavior ("I'm upset that you were late tonight"). And remember, criticism is one of the Four Horsemen associated with breakups and divorce.


"You should listen to me." "You should be more careful." "You shouldn't do that." When you use the word "should" with your partner, you become a judge — not an ally — in their life. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, a former clinical psychologist and expert on couples conflict, explains that "should" statements are usually another way to say, "Be more like me." Rather than accept your S.O.'s differences and unique points of view, you direct their behavior in a way that mimics yours. As a result, your partner may feel that your love for them is only conditional and that you don't already appreciate them as they are.

Another phrase similar to "should" statements is, "If you loved me, you would..." At their worst, these kinds of sayings can be manipulative. In other cases, they're a flawed way of expressing a need. Rather than telling your partner how they should act, make a request. For example, try, "I'm overwhelmed with all the chores. Can you take care of the vacuuming?" instead of, "You should help around the house. If you loved me, you would vacuum without me having to tell you."

'You made me do it'

Love can make us do weird things, like incessantly checking our messages to see if our crush responded or snooping on a partner's phone during a moment of insecurity. But at the end of the day, how we behave is really only our responsibility — not our partner's or anyone else's. A critical part of having a healthy relationship is being able to own up to our actions and mistakes.

If you've ever caught yourself uttering phrases like, "You made me do it," you were shifting the blame to your partner. Besides being a defense mechanism, blame-shifting can also be an unconscious strategy to get your significant other to apologize, particularly if you were also hurt during the conflict. However, recognizing your role and practicing accountability is likely to go a lot further in your relationship than deflecting. Next time one of your mistakes becomes the focal point of a conversation, own up to it without pointing the finger back at your S.O. "It may not feel good in the short term, but the relationship you have with that person is more likely to move forward in a healthy way if you do," clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula told Newsweek.

'It's not a big deal'

Gentle reminder: Every person gets to choose what's important to them. So when you tell your partner that something isn't a big deal and they should just calm down and get over whatever's bothering them, it communicates that their feelings, needs, and values don't really matter to you. That typically only escalates the issue, Dr. Amanda Tadrous, a clinical psychologist, shared with Metro. "Such statements lead us to feel that we are not being listened to or taken seriously. Those who have experienced frequent invalidation of their emotions (e.g. in childhood) may react particularly strongly as it reminds them of those unpleasant experiences."

Another problem with phrases like "It's not a big deal": They can be a form of gaslighting in a relationship. Gaslighting is a way of questioning and invalidating another person's sense of reality, and it can become a way of controlling and abusing a partner. Remember, even if you don't understand your S.O.'s feelings or experiences, they're real and true to them.


Vicious name-calling doesn't belong in any relationship, and chances are, you already knew that. Healthline notes that name-calling isn't just toxic — it's abusive when used to humiliate or belittle your partner.

Even if you only let a mean name slip during arguments, it shows that you don't respect your significant other. "Name-calling is totally out of bounds," Dr. Susan Heitler, a relationship expert, author, and clinical psychologist, told Men's Health."It's only about injuring the other; it's not about problem solving." No one gets a pass just because they're angry, and your partner will still remember the name you hurled at them even after the argument is over.

Assess any humorous name-calling and derogatory pet names too. Calling someone a nasty or offensive name but cloaking it in a joke or affectionate jab can still be harmful. When in doubt, ask your partner how they feel about the names you call them. You might discover that the "funny" nickname you gave them didn't actually seem so funny to them.

'We're done'

There's only one time when it's okay to say you're going to break up with your partner: when you're actually breaking up with them. Threatening to end things during an intense argument or after your partner hurt you, for example, can quickly deteriorate trust and emotional safety in the relationship. "While breakups do happen, if you have no intent to leave, you should never threaten your partner with a breakup to get your way," Jonathan Bennett, a counselor and personal coach, explained to Insider. "Fear of losing someone you love is very powerful and threats like that can create anxiety and depression, especially if your partner has abandonment issues or other mental health problems."

If you have genuine doubts about your relationship, talking to your significant other is a good idea, but make the conversation about your shared future and not about splitting. "Get clear on your vision for the future as a couple, and get honest with one another about whether you are both in alignment about what it is you want, value, and envision your lives to be like together," certified relationship coach Jillian Turecki recommended to Well+Good. This gives you a chance to thoughtfully consider your compatibility, without impulsively threatening to separate.