Goldsmith (column): Be careful with your words in a relationship

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In long-term relationships, people can sometimes fall into treating each inappropriately. They may use derogatory terms or talk down to one another. Others may not talk much at all, because when they do talk, it becomes a fight. The relationship has devolved into a power struggle.

If this describes your relationship, both of you may be reacting to unmet needs. Understanding this can help you change destructive behavior patterns and get back to a loving life. When your communication becomes hurtful, there may be deeper issues involved, and you need to become aware of what you are doing. It’s important to the very foundation and survival of your relationship.

If your partner has spoken harshly to you, you need to let them know that your feelings have been hurt. Maybe they were unaware of it. Or maybe you were the one who spoke harshly. Either way, when someone has been hurt, the best response is an immediate apology.

On the other hand, if your other half is being purposely hurtful, you may be too afraid to say anything in the moment for fear of escalating their anger. Making a few notes about what they said and bringing it up in a calmer moment is a good technique to help point out and change this behavior. Part of healing your relationship may include some communication counseling. If you aren’t ready for that step, there are many books on the subject. Reading one together can help you not only heal this dysfunctional dynamic but also make you closer.

Loving relationships, no matter how good, have their dark moments. That’s normal, and most couples can say a few kind words to each other, and kiss and make up. But when you begin to hold grudges or think of your partner in a negative way, those feelings will pop out verbally and in other hurtful ways as well. Avoiding your partner or the issue isn’t going to fix it or make your life better. You have to look at the behavior and address it.

One tried-and-true method is to make a point of figuring out what you want to say before you say it, and imagining how your partner will react to your words. Thinking before you speak may seem cumbersome, but it only takes a few moments and can save you hours of grief.

Being kind is often a good start. For example, if your partner does something that could be taken as offensive, like pretending to ignore you, you can choose to say something like “Honey, I know you hear me, and I love you.” It can take the fire out of someone’s anger when they know that a hurtful behavior has been forgiven without even an apology.

Most of us are aware of our behaviors, both good and bad. When we are not being the kind of person we’d like to be, it does a little damage to our self-esteem. Left unchecked, your behavior will damage your relationship. Do your best to catch yourself and change this destructive pattern. All you have to do is talk about it.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D. is an award-winning psychotherapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of 8 books, and a blogger for with nearly 35 million readers. He is available for in-person & video consults world-wide, reach him at

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