When love is new, couples are very careful about how they talk with each other.
They watch their words, not wanting to say anything that can cause distance, hurt, or regret. You’re floating in a state of bliss, and you want to keep it that way.
Can you remember a time like this, either in a current relationship or a previous one?
And can you also remember what happened as time passed?
As relationships mature, partners too often forget how angry words can hurt and damage intimacy. During conflict, we say things we would never have said to each other in the early stages of dating. We get lazy.
We don’t stop to think about the negative impact our words can have, and we become more intent on winning than on maintaining our intimate connection.
“You’re so stupid. Aren’t you ever going to think before you talk?”
“Why do I even try? You’ll never get it.”
“You only care about yourself.”
“You’re just as mean as your father ever was.”
“You’re completely irrational.”
These are some examples of “wipeout statements” – words that are often used in the heat of the moment and convey a character assassination.
These phrases are not only ineffective, but they can devalue or invalidate your partner’s sense of worth.
As you can see, most wipeout statements have the words “never,” “ever,” or “always” in them – three words that seem trivial, yet have the power to hurt your partner more than you might ever imagine.
Think for a moment about the wipeout statements you tend to use. Do they resemble words you heard growing up?
If your mother would say things to you like, “You never listen to me,” or “You’re always forgetting things,” you’re likely to repeat those words in your adult relationships – especially when tempers flare.
When you tell your partner something like, “You only care about yourself,” you’re not speaking the truth. Surely, there has been at least one time when he did demonstrate care, otherwise you wouldn’t be with him.
Wipeout statements come across as character assassinations that tell people they are innately bad, incompetent, or valueless. When you use a wipeout statement, you’re actually trying to convey frustration and hurt. But your partner won’t likely hear it that way. If he takes the wipeout statement personally, it may leave an emotional, indelible scar.
If you are complaining about your partner’s behavior as temporarily distressful, you would use words like, “You’re being really difficult right now,” or “You drive me crazy when you act like this.”
Those are descriptions of temporary behaviors that are only occurring in the moment. They tell your partner that you’re angry at what he or she is doing, not who they are.
A simple change like this in the words you use has tremendous power.
Conflict is natural and even healthy in an intimate relationship. It’s how you handle the conflict that determines whether you and your partner will grow closer or apart. And communication is a critically important part of that.
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When you know how to communicate effectively and lovingly with your partner, you'll open the door to a love that is truly heroic.