That old phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is not really true. Words may not inflict visible bruises like sticks and stones, but they pack a punch nonetheless.
Words injure our insides, our feelings and our self-esteem. External bruises are visible proof that we’ve been hurt. Internal bruises from verbal attacks are harder to prove, harder to acknowledge, and harder to talk about.
Words and how we say them do matter, so it’s very important to be careful how you speak to your partner and others. The misuse and carelessness of how you speak are two of the main issues that undermine and can eventually destroy a relationship.
Use of attacking language, such as “You’re a jerk,” “You always,” “You never…,” is guaranteed to get a negative response from your partner who has no choice but to be react defensively. There are more compassionate ways to get your thoughts and feelings across to someone you care about. For example, the statement above, “You are a jerk” can be reframed to “I don’t care for your behavior. I feel like you don’t care about me.” That doesn’t mean you can’t speak your mind, it just means you’re being respectful and mindful of another person’s feelings and vulnerabilities. It lets your partner know they’re not a bad person, but you truly want them to hear you.
For better communication, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Use “I” statements. Instead of “You never listen to me”, change it to “I feel like I am not being heard.”
2. Speak as you would like to be spoken to. Instead of “Shut up, you’re always yelling at me for no reason. You’re awful!” change it to “It’s not okay to talk to me that way. I don’t deserve it and it is hurtful.”
Because this is a more neutral and uncharged way of speaking than the first accusatory example, it’s going to be much easier for your partner to hear you, to reply in an understanding manner, and maybe even change his/her behavior. You’re speaking your feelings without raking your partner over the coals.
3. Listen before you speak. Sometimes we hear what we want to hear when they really didn’t say what you thought at all. Relax. Don’t say anything in the heat of the moment. Replay the conversation in your mind before lashing out.
4. Have compassion for your partner as well as yourself. Good communication means expressing your feelings without making the other person defensive. This means that you take responsibility for your feelings and expressing them in a way that is clear without blame, shame, or damage to the relationship. When we speak with compassionate, this allows us say even the hardest things to someone but still communicate our love and displeasure. Kindness and compassion go a long way.