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how language can make or break your relationship

When you speak with language rooted in compassion, personal responsibility, empathy, kindness, and respect for others, you transform your relationships. More importantly, there are many subtle ways of communicating that can improve or sabotage the message you want to get across.


People can accidentally negatively impact their connection with others by their word choice.

“The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is,” Boroditsky says. “Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000.”

5 Effective Ways to Improve your Relationship with Language Changes

  1. Use I statements. These take responsibility for your feelings and prevent the other person from feeling blamed and evoking defensiveness. This is also important way to ask your partner for things because it is a request, rather than a demand. Ex: Why can’t you shut off the light? Correction: I really would like to watch TV with the lights out, do you mind flipping the switch really quick?”

  2. Try leading with the emotion underneath the anger you’re experiencing to reduce the chance of escalation and defensiveness. Most times, conflict triggers a person emotionally. Many people tend to lean into anger first, which is a naturally protective stance rather than a collaborative, open one. For example, a couple gets into conflict because one partner had to work late and miss their dinner plans. The partner waiting at home feels anger well up inside them, but after thinking about it for a moment, they realize they actually feel sad and made her feel like they were not as connected as they used to be. This tends to go over better than an angry confrontation.

  3. Avoid using all-or-nothing phrases like “always, never, bad, good, etc.”

  4. Avoid criticizing statements by making present tense focused requests. Example: Instead of, “It’s a mess in here” when noticing a messy room, using a phrase like “I am feeling overwhelmed, could you help me clean?” may be helpful.

  5. Avoid contempt by expressing emotions in a healthy honest way. Contempt is often a result of unexpressed anger. According to relationship expert John Gottman, “Contempt is the worst of the four horsemen. It is the most destructive negative behavior in relationships. … Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm and condescension are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.” Even if your partner is temporary upset with you addressing something that is upsetting you, it is far more productive than cultivating resentments and contemptuous patterns.

What does this look like in real life?

Example: “You forgot to do the laundry again and I’m pissed. Did you think the laundry fairy was going to do it for you? Of course, because I always have to do it when you forget.” Partner 1

Immediately, there are a few responses that a partner could respond with in a combative way.

“It’s not a big deal!” (misinterpretation may occur and p1 may think p2 is minimizing P1’s feelings)

“I do the laundry all the time, you barely do the laundry anymore!” (misinterpretation may occur and P1 may interprets this as as P2 questioning P1’s contribution to the household.)

Your pissed? I don’t say anything to you when you forget to sweep the floor. I should be pissed!” (misinterpretation may occur and P2 may become defensive and present a counter-argument with an example to justify P2’s mistake, in order to avoid negative feelings associated with blame.)

The list goes on. A healthier phrase to use instead is this (soft and assertive disposition/tone) : “I’m feeling overwhelmed because there’s a lot on my plate right now. Can you please remember to stay on top of the laundry during the week? I know I do the laundry sometimes when we fall behind, but I don’t have time to do it right now with [project at work, insert other commitment]. It really means a lot to me that you agreed to take it on, so thank you.”

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