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These toxic phrases are ruining your relationships (and how to stop using them)

Black and white photo of couple away from each other with distant look on their faces
Photo by Timur Weber | Pexels

Have you noticed that the closer we are to someone, the easier it is to get careless about how we speak with them? The way we communicate with our loved ones can easily make or break our connection with them. So many people carry resentment about others because they don’t know how to communicate their feelings and needs with authenticity and vulnerability. Let's explore a scenario.

Scenario: A Forgotten Anniversary Dinner

John and Sarah have been together for five years

Their anniversary was approaching, and over the past few months, Sarah had dropped hints about wanting to celebrate this special date with a special dinner in a new restaurant she heard about.

However, John, caught up in his work, completely forgot about their upcoming anniversary.

On the evening of their anniversary, Sarah dressed up in anticipation, eagerly awaiting John's surprise. As the hours passed, her excitement turned into disappointment when he arrived home later than usual, exhausted, and oblivious to Sarah’s expectations.

Feeling hurt and unappreciated, Sarah's disappointment quickly turned into anger. She blurted out, "You moron! You forgot our anniversary and ruined everything again. You are always doing things like this and I'm so sick of it!"

A fight ensues, where Sarah, feeling hurt and neglected, blames John’s forgetfulness and inconsideration for her frustration and anger.

Now, John, who feels guilty, and potentially resentful of Sarah for relying on giving hints instead of communicating her wants and needs clearly, will become tense and hyper vigilant every time an anniversary is near.

What happened?

Still wondering what are the relationship-destroyer sentences? Here they are:

“You always ______”

“You never _______”

“You’re ____ (selfish/lazy/inconsiderate, etc)”

Most relationship conflicts occur because of different interpretations of realities between the people involved.

It's a fundamental fact that two things can be true at the same time. You can feel hurt by what someone did or said, while they didn't mean to hurt you. That doesn't invalidate your hurt feelings, nor it makes them a bad person. The vast majority of people don't mean to hurt others with their words and actions, and yet, that doesn't mean we should ignore our feelings and refrain from communicating our truth.

However, communicating our truth only leads to connection when it comes from a place of facts, and not judgement. Our feelings and needs are facts. Our judgements about other people based on our feelings are not. This is why it's so important to discern between judgements, feelings, emotions and needs.

The main problem with communicating our feelings based on blaming and judgement is that it denies the possibility of other realities coexisting with ours. 

Blaming others or assuming their intentions based on our own judgements not only deflects responsibility, but also denies the validity of their internal reality. 

Words like "always" and "never" in this context are particularly problematic because, other than being outright disrespectful, they are likely inaccurate at best, as they are rarely a fair representation of the frequency of someone's behaviour.

Instead, it is important to take a step back and take ownership of our own reality, by communicating it with vulnerability and openness, so that we can create space for genuine dialogue and mutual understanding. 

What could have happened instead?

One of the most revolutionary tools I encountered during my explorations of Yoga was the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) framework, developed by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg. It is a transformative framework for expressing feelings, needs and making requests that can help heal fractured relationships, and strengthen existing ones.

NVC encourages taking responsibility for our own emotions and needs, while avoiding judgement and blame. The framework reaches us to communicate our emotions, needs and requests, by creating an atmosphere of empathy, respect, and open dialogue.

Consider the following reframing

Going back to the scenario, let's try reframing the sentence said by Sarah as per the NVC framework.

Instead of: "You moron! You forgot our anniversary and ruined everything again.”

Reframe to: "When I realised that our anniversary slipped your mind, I felt incredibly disappointed and unimportant. Celebrating our milestones together is important to me, because when we do, I feel more connected to you. Can we find a way to address this, so that we can keep deepening our relationship?"

In this reframed statement, Sarah expresses her feelings and the impact of John's forgetfulness on her. She acknowledges her disappointment without attacking him personally, expresses her need to feel connected to him, and invites him to collaborate on finding a solution together.

After hearing this, John feels more connected with Sarah, and therefore more willing to find a solution, because he can empathise with the feelings and needs she expressed.

With the NVC reframing, the conflict became an opportunity for both to strengthen their connection as a couple, rather than potentially destroying their relationship.

NVC is not always easy to use, and it's not a foolproof way to get conflicts resolved, but it is a powerful tool that can help people feel more connected with each other.

If you are interested in learning more about NVC, there are many resources available online.

Here are some additional resources on NVC:

I wrote an eBook about my journey that has some other examples and personal stories of me using the NVC framework in real life scenarios — one of which didn’t go so smoothly, and it taught another valuable lesson about this framework.

You can download a free PDF sample of the book here, or purchase the full eBook on my online store here.

Have you heard of or used nonviolent communication before?


Hi! I’m creating products that help people reconnect with themselves through their emotions, needs, vulnerabilities, imperfections, and all the beautiful things that make us human.

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