8 phrases that can hurt your partner, even if your intentions are good

Have you ever said something to your partner with good intentions, yet somehow, it still hurt their feelings?

I know I have. My partner and I have very different communication styles and interpret the same words in very different ways. Throughout our relationship, we’ve had to learn what’s hurtful to the other person, even if we meant well when we said it.

In the process, I’ve learned a lot of phrases that can hurt your partner even if your intentions are good. Today, I’m sharing 8 of the worst ones, to save you from hurting your partner like I’ve done so many times.

Are any of these phrases part of your regular vocabulary?

Let’s dive in.

1) “Do whatever you want, I don’t care.”

This phrase in particular got me in a lot of trouble early on in my relationship.

My partner might ask me something like, “Do you want me to come with you to visit your parents this weekend?”. And I’d respond by saying, “Do whatever you want, I don’t care.”

I thought by saying this, I was giving him the freedom to do what he wanted to do. I didn’t want to put him under any pressure to spend his weekend with my family.

Secretly I hoped he’d come so that we could enjoy the weekend together. But I was giving off different vibes entirely.

Have you ever said something like this?

This phrase makes it sound as though you’re disengaging and you’ve no interest in what your other half is doing. You might have good intentions like me but it’s best to avoid this one altogether.

2) “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

You know when you’re in conversation with your special someone and they’re trying to tell you how they feel, but they just aren’t making sense to you?

Even if it’s exactly how you feel, you should never say, “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Let me explain: when it comes to sharing feelings, it requires someone to be vulnerable. They’re opening themselves up to you and taking a risk that you might not show them the understanding that they need.

Even though your intentions are good, if you use this phrase, it feels to them like you’re shooting them down and dismissing them without even trying to understand. Instead, try something more gentle like, “I’m not quite following you, can you go over that again?”

3) “Shut up.”

I’ve heard people say “Shut up” to their partner and then claim that it was a joke or they weren’t being serious.

I’m here to tell you, it’s never a good idea to say it even as a joke.

The thing is: telling someone to shut up is downright disrespectful. And any disrespect even as a joke, can damage a relationship.

On top of this, it can make someone feel as though their views and opinions don’t matter and they don’t have a voice in their relationship.

It’s best to steer clear of this phrase to avoid hurting your partner’s feelings, intentionally or not. 

4) “Calm down.”

If you’ve ever been told to calm down by anyone in your life, you’ll know that it doesn’t help you to feel more calm. In fact, it causes more frustration.

Although you might be trying to help your partner during an emotional event by saying, “Calm down”, it’s not at all helpful. Instead of offering comfort, saying this can actually cause them to feel more upset.

As noted by Psychologist and author Andrea Bonior, “The problem with the phrase is that it often puts people on the defensive—insinuating that their reactions are the problem.”

It’s not your intention, but it often feels patronizing. It’s like you’re telling them they’re not entitled to feel upset or emotional,  which can come across like you’re emotionally invalidating how they feel.

5) “You always…/You never…”

Absolute statements like this are a big no-no in all relationships.

Even if your intentions are good, using an absolute statement can turn a peaceful everyday interaction into a couple’s tiff in an instant. Why?

They can make your partner feel judged and defensive. It’s like you’re saying that they’re constantly doing something wrong even if it’s something innocent.

“Guess what? I bought you this alarm clock because you’re always later/never on time”

Even though part of this statement reveals a kind gesture that someone bought you a gift, the absolute statements in the second part ruin it. It’s easy to see why someone might get defensive, right?

The best thing to do is avoid these kinds of all-or-nothing statements and simply rephrase them in a more gentle way. Do this and you can be sure no one’s feelings will accidentally get hurt.

6) “What did I tell you before?”

Have you ever learned something new with your partner?

Jay Shetty, life coach, and author, talks about education (learning together) as being one of the 5 Es to create more intimacy in relationships. I’ve experienced this firsthand, learning to cook with my partner. It was a great way to do something together, deepen our bond, and learn something at the same time.

One day, I’d forgotten something and asked my partner for help. He responded by saying, “What did I tell you before?” Although his intentions were good, he was trying to help me remember on my own, it felt very condescending.

Avoid using this phrase with your partner if you want to make sure they don’t feel belittled or disrespected by you.

7) “Don’t worry/Cheer up.”

Does it surprise you to see this phrase in a list of things you shouldn’t say to your partner? Of course, your intentions are good if you’re saying this but believe it or not, this phrase can still hurt your partner’s feelings.

And here’s why: when someone feels a certain way, especially a negative emotion like sadness or worry, it’s not their choice.

In most cases, if they could, they would simply stop worrying or cheer up. Hearing these phrases can make them feel more alone than anything.

It’s like you don’t get what they’re going through. You’re minimizing it and oversimplifying it. It’s not your intention but that’s how it can come across.

Instead, show some empathy by letting them know you’re sorry they’re feeling this way and you’re there for them. 

8) “My ex used to {insert thing here}, I wish you’d do that more.”

Making comparisons between your current partner and your ex is always a bad idea. If you saw that episode of “Friends” where Ross made a list comparing Rachel and Julie, you know what I’m talking about.

Naturally, your partner feels a little insecure about your ex but the last thing you want to do is make that insecurity worse by making comparisons and wishing they were more like your old partner.

Even when your intentions are good, comparing your partner to your ex can hurt a lot. The easiest way to avoid that happening is to make sure you never use phrases of comparison.

The bottom line

How many of those phrases are you guilty of using even though your intentions were good?

Honestly, I’ve probably said them all at some point but I’ve learned from each experience.

By telling you this, I hope you can avoid making the same mistakes because I know the last thing you want to do is upset your better half

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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