1. “Should,” as in “You should do this … .” “Hearing the word ‘should’ feels like someone is pressing a thumb into your chest,” Schwartz says. When you tell your partner that he should be (or not be) doing something, you come across like an angry parent or boss waiting to dish out punishment. Your partner feels picked on, and rightfully so. Result: Whatever helpfulness your advice might have delivered is now lost and gone forever. A better approach is asking if your partner is open to a suggestion.
2. “You used to be so hot.” We age, we sag, we widen; get over it. But when you point it out with denigrating language, Schwartz warns, “you’re showing contempt and being hurtful.” Addressing appearance issues is difficult. We need to walk that fine line between assuring our partners that we still love them and letting them know that we might be just a smidge more turned on if they took just a smidge more pride in their looks.
3. “You really don’t remember that?” True? Probably — but more to the point, it’s upsetting. “As we get older, we forget stuff,” Schwartz says. No one wants her diminishing capacities given a shout-out. Some couples make light of it in a good-humored, teasing way, but that’s as rough as it should ever get. (Of course, if you suspect a serious problem, you’ll want to find a gentle, loving way to bring it up.)
4. “Are you really going out in that?” When you put it that way, you’re giving a pretty harsh reminder that the self-image in your partner’s mind’s eye doesn’t necessarily jibe with what others see. If it’s a matter of taste — e.g., he loves Hawaiian shirts, you can’t abide them — Schwartz says to try to live with it. But if the outfit is unflattering (or worse), Schwartz recommends saying something like, “Honey, I love the way you look in that baby blue shirt and your khakis. Would you wear them for me?”
5. “What did you do to your hair?” If you like the 'do, come out and say so directly. If you’re trying to be diplomatic (that is, not saying “OMG, your hair looks horrible”), this is where the proverbial little white lie comes in handy. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of backhanded compliment (or veiled insult), do as Schwartz suggests and “diffuse it by saying, ‘Well, I like it, and my stylist loves it, so I hope you can get used to it.’”