It took me a long time to learn that my black-and-white way of viewing relationships was causing more problems than the issues I was addressing. The following five words, and the way I employed them, were mostly to blame. When one of my relationships hit crisis level, I realized it was time for a change.
The following are five words I've decided to erase from my vocabulary:
It drives my husband crazy when I drop this bomb, which is usually more like an accusation: "Why do you always…? Does it always have to be me who…?" etc.
Reality favors my husband. The chance that someone ALWAYS does ANYTHING is entirely rare. Because ALWAYS also implies this behavior will continue into the future, ad infinitum. This puts our loved ones in a box (albeit a box in our heads) from which they can't escape. It is a form of entrapment.
This is another word that is banned from our home. It's an accusation word: "You never take out the trash," "You never say thank you," "You never apologize…" etc. This is an unhealthy label.
By attaching it to our partner or children, we could be branding them for life. The chances that this person has NEVER done this thing ever… Well, again, this is completely rare.
3, 4, 5. You Make Me (fill in the blank)
The truth is, no one can really make us do or feel anything. Everything is a choice, whether conscious or unconscious. By telling a loved one, "You make me"…so angry, late for work, whatever it is, you're shifting blame from your own plate to someone else's. It's an accusation that instantly puts your loved one on the defensive.
Gratefully, there is an antidote. In this season of New Year's resolutions, consider banning the words "Always," "Never," and "You make me…" and replace them with the great smoother-outer of relationship wrinkles: "I feel."
We spent a fair amount of time in family counseling with one of our children. And one of the most valuable takeaways was how to share an "I feel" statement to begin discussion of an emotionally-charged topic.
The full statement template is- "I feel (blank) when you(blank)because (blank). In the future I hope(blank).
Instead of "You always leave your dirty socks on the floor!" say, "I feel frustrated when you leave your dirty socks on the floor, because it seems like you expect me to pick up after you. In the future, I hope you'll toss them in the laundry bin on your way upstairs."
You're still expressing that you feel strongly about the action, but you're saying it in a way that addresses your feelings rather than throwing up an accusation. And you're proposing a solution.
Here's another one:
Instead of "You never apologize after an argument," try, "I feel hurt when youdon't apologize after an argument, because it seems like you're still blaming me. In the future I hope you'll acknowledge your role in the disagreement and say you're sorry for that."
Again, you're expressing how you feel about a given scenario, without labeling or accusing, and your spell out what you'd like to see instead.
Instead of "You make me so mad!" say, "I feel angry when you treat me like that because it seems like you don't appreciate my contributions. In the future I hope you'll respond more respectfully when I ask you to help out."
This approach takes all of the accusation out of your communication, but still acknowledges and expresses how you feel about the situation, and defines your expectations.
Put this to work in your relationships today, and feel empowered to speak openly and calmly to resolve conflicts.
Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, and adjunct faculty at UVU. She co-hosts a popular podcast for women: "The Living Room" (bit.ly/TLRSHowiTunes) and spends every day possible exploring mountain trails. Contact her at