Heartbreak

28 Experts Reveal The #1 Phrase That Will Damage A Relationship

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Did you ever say something in the heat of the moment that was so mean, so harsh, so out-of-character for you that the instant the words left your mouth you wish you could snatch them back out of the air before they reached human ears? 

Of course you have. Who hasn't let their emotions get the better of them during an argument — and said something they instantly regret?

When it happens, that old saying always seems to hover over our heads in big, blinking, neon letters, mocking us in retrospect with painful simplicity: Words matter.

Our team of YourTango Experts — psychologists, therapists, life coaches and more — agree. 

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This is particularly true when we have disagreements with our romantic partners. Why do we say awful things to the people who, in theory, are closest to our hearts? The reasons are ... complicated, and as varied as the stars.

Suffice it to say that the pain inflicted by the words and the tone we use can cause real and lasting damage to our relationships.

So, be mindful of what you say to the most important people in your life — especially when your emotions are running high. And heed the advice of our YourTango Experts, who revealed the phrases to avoid if you want your relationship to last.

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28 experts share the phrases that can be most damaging to your relationship

1. "This is your fault."

Blame is toxic, fosters contempt and prevents the accountability that is essential for loving relationships.

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., clinical psychologist

2. "I knew you were going to say that."

Julia McCurley, CEO of Try Something More Matchmaking 

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3. “You must be hormonal.”

Accusing your mate of having a hormonal imbalance when they are not behaving in a way that you think they should be behaving is a great way to compromise trust and damage your relationship.

LeNae Goolsby, Co-Founder / COO of Infinite Health Integrative Medicine

4. "I want a divorce." (But you don't really mean it.)

It's understandable to consider leaving a relationship when you are profoundly hurt or angry. But bringing up divorce or breaking up just to make your point, be heard, or try to get your partner to understand how upset you are isn't a good idea.

Threatening to leave can set off a cascade of insecurity in your partner going right to the heart of many people's deepest attachment fears. It makes clear communication and conflict worse, not better. It's best to take time out to calm yourself down. Then go back and try to express yourself more effectively.

If you're still not being heard, it may be time to call in the professionals.

- Dr. Marni Feuerman, psychotherapist and couples counselor at The Talking Solution Psychotherapy

RELATED: How To Tell Your Husband You Want A Divorce When He Doesn’t

5. "You make me feel (fill in the blank)."

When we tell our partners they are responsible for our hurt or pain, the result is always to fight back, disagree or make the other person wrong. The bottom line: This statement creates conflict rather than helping resolve a circumstance.

An easy solution is to say "When you respond or comment that I did (fill in the blank), it feels like, or it is hard to (respond). I want to find a way to discuss this without a fight. Would you be willing to share what is coming up for you?

Larry Michel, relationship restoration coach and founder, Institue of Genetic Energetics

6. "Shut up!"

- Dr. Barbara Holstein, positive psychologist, author, filmmaker and creator of The Enchanted Self

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7. "You're crazy, you need help."

Amanda Chils, licenced therapist and trauma specialist

8. "Yes, but ... "

Try saying "yes, and ..." instead.

Ruth Schimel, PhD, career & life management consultant, author

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9. "You're wrong."

It's not easy to admit when we're wrong, but if you want to maintain a good relationship with someone, it's essential to be able to do so. Telling someone that they're wrong is essentially telling them that you don't respect their opinion, and it will only serve to damage your relationship. There are many ways to disagree with someone without damaging the relationship, so try using one of those instead.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/ SUDCC II, founder of Wasimann Method treatment center

10. "How could you do that?"

Any variation of “Why did you do that?” (“What were you thinking?”) And never, ever ask “How could you be so stupid?” These are accusations masquerading as questions. We maintain strong relationships by genuinely asking questions out of curiosity, and not by judging or placing blame. Ask “What happened?” and not, “Really? Again?”

Susan Kulakowski, coach at the Relationship Mastery Institute

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11. "You always (fill in the blank)."

This can be poison to a relationship. It's usually followed by criticism such as "... ignore my needs", "... leave everything to me", "... listen to your friends/mother and not me".

The problem with "you always," is that it leaves little room for anything except defensiveness in response. It's a trigger that tends to cause more conflict, not resolution.

For better results, try explaining how you feel and that you would love their help to resolve the issue. Avoid using words that sound like a criticism of your partner's character, and focus instead on solving issues.

A helpful guideline to focus on is: "It's not me versus you, it's us versus the problem."

Cassady Cayne, love coach, energy healer

12. “What is the matter with you?”

This is a surefire way to harm a relationship. Said in frustration, it shames the other person and only makes you untrustworthy and (psychologically) unsafe.

Judith Pinto, focus coach for entrepreneurial moms

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13. "You always do ..." followed by a negative comment.

Audrey Tait, MS, CCC, RD at Inspirational Insights Counselling

14. Threatening divorce.

In the many years of seeing couples, I've found that the most damaging phrase that couples throw around is the threat of divorce. It's like the nuclear bomb of a marriage. When one partner threatens the marriage in this way, the other immediately feels threatened and goes into survival mode.

Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, CIRT, couples therapist

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15. "There's something wrong with you."

Leigh Norén, sex therapist and coach

16. "I am leaving!"

This truly is potentially one of the biggest relationship sabotagers that we humans engage in. Not realizing how destabilizing this threat can be, we throw it out at our partner when we are lost for answers, have no clue what to do, and see no light in the challenge that we find ourselves in.

We may say that it is not what we want, and more than likely this is accurate, however when we speak these condemning words to our partner what we do is shatter the foundation of our relationship, that being trust and safety. This is potentially one of the harshest, if not the harshest statements to make to our loved one and it is very difficult to repair the cracks that it creates with just one blow from its ax.

Once these words are spoken it leaves with it a forever lingering feeling of doubt that plagues the relationship.

Rene Schooler, relationship/intimacy coach

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17. "I don't care."

When couples contact me for a consultation, it’s often because one or both partners feel unheard, unaccepted, unappreciated, disrespected, or hurt. Their verbal and nonverbal communication may indicate frustration, disappointment, disgust, upset or resignation.

While all this can be very hurtful, the most damaging phrase is “I don’t care.” The opposite of love is not hate — it is indifference.

If this phrase, "I don't care," is said with sincerity, it could mean any of the following: I don’t care about you or about our relationship anymore. You and our relationship are no longer priorities in my life. I don’t care enough to put any effort in. I’m apathetic and no longer interested. I give up and I’m done.

Wendy Lyon, Ph.D., master relationship coach for singles and couples

18. "This is all your fault.”

This common phrase also happens to cause the most damage in a relationship. It causes both partners to become defensive, exacerbates tension, and contributes nothing to finding solutions.

Blaming one partner for what is sometimes the fault of both only aggravates the problem at hand; even if one partner did something irrefutably wrong, he or she will not take being blamed lightly. It’s human nature to defend our actions, even if they were not the most positive.

This phrase is likely to escalate a disagreement to an all-out verbal war, with the partners going back and forth in trying to brush fault off of themselves and pin it back on their partner.

When we analyze the actions people take in relationships, erroneous as they may be, we find that they are often driven by circumstances outside the realm of logic.

For example, it goes without saying that a person shouldn’t cheat. But people still do so if they grew up witnessing their parents cheating on one another, have been cheated on in the past, or are deeply dissatisfied in their relationship.

Saying “this is all your fault” is an easy way to place the burden of blame on your partner, but it fails to encompass the many mental and emotional factors of wrongdoing. Better statements to make would be, “Do you recognize what you did wrong?” and “How do you see us making this right?”

Carmen Harra, intuitive psychologist and relationship expert

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19. "I don't feel safe with you anymore."

Alternately: "I'm having someone else's baby."

Pegi Burdick, coach and owner of The Financial Whisperer

20. The hostility behind the words.

When you’re angry, it’s easy to say something that feels harsher than intended but it’s less about the words you say and more about your hostility. The No. 1 phrase that will damage your relationship is anything you say that shames your partner, cuts them down as a person, or makes them feel degraded as a human being.

When arguing, always focus on the behavior, not the person.

- Britta Neinast, LCSW and relationship expert at Healing With Britta

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21. "It was just casual."

Infidelity is hard to process. Undoubtedly, your partner will be deeply shocked upon the realization of being cheated on. The worst thing you can say while they are watching their dreams and future plans being shattered in front of their eyes is that it wasn't serious.

No matter the extent of your infidelity, it is enough to scar your relationship for life. The first steps have already been taken by cheating your partner.

Now, the least you can do to save it is by taking accountability for your actions. Don't try to gaslight your partner. Don't be defensive. And don't try to calm them down.

Allow them to process their pain in the way they want (unless it's life-threatening for either of you). Take responsibility and yes, don't ever try to say — "it was just casual".

Sidhharrth S Kumaar, Astro numerologist and relationship coach

22. "I know what you are feeling."

Roland Legge, Spiritual Life Coach at REL Consultants

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23. "I don't care what you have to say."

It could be followed with "about (topic)." When we stop listening, we not only are saying we don't care about or love the other person, we are saying we don't really want to be in a relationship with them. Communication is a huge part of love.

When you shut a person's voice down, you shut off the love flow, too.

Kathryn Brown Ramsperger, intuitive life & creativity coach at Ground One Coaching

24. Anything said with contempt.

Anything you say with word or body language that shows contempt and communicates that the other person is worthless or disgusting.

Examples include: "You are disgusting." or "You disgust me." "Are you kidding me? You are an idiot." We show contempt to others without words when we sneer, sign deeply, and roll our eyes — all of which express disbelief, annoyance, exasperation, pity, and being ashamed of them. 

Marilyn Sutherland, relationship and communication coach at Love Lead Connect

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25. "It's either them or me!"

Don't make your partner choose between you and his friends, parents, hobby or career! Ultimatums can be really harmful to your relationship and even if your partner makes a choice in your favor sooner or later this will create more and deeper issues between the two of you so try not to use that phrase!

There are other ways to balance such situations without pushing the other person to the limit of their ability to tolerate and compromise.

Angelika Matev, psychological astrologer & growth coach

26. Any statement that begins with "You always ..."

Even though you may be recognizing a pattern with your mate, beginning a statement with "You always ..." generalizes, lacks specificity and succeeds only in isolating and making your loved one feel judged. This doesn't mean you should avoid important conversations with your loved one.

Begin with "I" statements such as "I have been noticing (fill in the blank( and it has been impacting how I feel. Do you have a minute to talk about it?"

Cyndera Quackenbush, MA, author, speaker and intuitive storyteller

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27. "I don't need you. I don't respect you."

It's difficult for someone to un-hear this. Especially a man.

Dr. D Ivan Young, MCC, NBC-HWC, behavioral and relationship expert

28. “This isn’t working for me.”

Or any other form of complaint is the fastest way to end a relationship.

Susan Allan, founder of Heartspace and the Marriage Forum

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Carter Gaddis is the senior editor, experts & wellness, for YourTango. 

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