In our lesson Two Words You Should Drop Like A Bad Habit, we talk about the evils of these categoricals within the context of a disagreement. For all other purposes, like saying “I will always order cheesecake if I see it on a menu,” or “I never say no to a slice of cheesecake,” we whole-heartedly support the use of these words. But when it comes to healthy arguments - you should write them off for good.
Relationship therapist Tara Griffith underscores the point by saying, “These all-or-nothing phrases are typically exaggerations and used to illustrate a point or elicit an emotional response. However, these statements are often inaccurate (e.g., ’You never listen to me!’) and can set your partner up to become defensive. As a result, they’ll likely miss the true message of what you are trying to say and will instead focus on proving you wrong, leading to a circular conversation or argument that goes nowhere.”
We don’t want to go nowhere. We want to go somewhere. So how do we do that? By saying sayonara to these 2 words. Here’s how:
Step #1. Be Specific.
The biggest problem with telling them that they're ‘always late’ is that now they have to drop everything else and defend their reputation by bringing up the ONE time they weren’t late – and the issue you’re upset about gets completely ignored.
When you tell your partner that “Yesterday when you were late it really put me in an awkward position…” now you’re not attacking their identity - but their behavior. Totally separate things.
Step #2. Share How It Makes You Feel.
If we don’t attach an emotion to our critique/complaint/suggestion, your partner will be much less incentivized to change their behavior.
Such as: “You always online shop and spend way too much money.”
In this situation you’re telling your partner that they are exhibiting bad behavior but you’re not sharing how it affects you. Instead, try: “I get nervous about our finances when I see how much you spend online shopping.”
Or: “You never pick your wet towel off the floor after you shower!”
Try: “Yesterday I almost slipped on the wet towel you left on the bathroom floor.” (Hello, safety is priority #1) Or: “When I picked up the wet towel you left on the bathroom floor, it smelled really musty. I washed it, but I wish you’d hang it up to dry.” (Because hello, laundry is the worst)
If you are able to be specific and vulnerable, you have approx. a 5,000% better chance at changing your partner’s unsavory behavior. And although we’d NEVER tell you what to do, we think you will ALWAYS have better results if you follow our tips. Just saying.