This relationship business is not for the faint-hearted and it can be tricky to maintain a healthy partnership, especially with kids in tow. However, US-based psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein says there is one word that is the cause of many relationship troubles, and he’s urging all couples to avoid it like the plague.
According to Dr Bernstein, who writes for Psychology Today, while material gifts and dinners out are fabulous, they aren’t going to sustain a healthy relationship. He believes it’s not just how you communicate with your partner, it’s how you think about him or her!
Stop ‘shoulding’ all over your partner
He says one way to improve your relationship is to avoid using the word ‘should’ when having an argument with your partner.
Dr Bernstein says you should stop ‘shoulding’ all over the one you love! He admits he’s virtually eliminated the word should from his vocabulary and tries to be aware of when it even enters his mind.
“I believe this word engenders a controlling, judgmental dynamic. Thinking ‘should’ about someone you love or being on the receiving end of a ‘should’ creates negative energy. And over time it can be toxic for any relationship, especially a loving one,” he says.
He says if partners harbor and internalise hidden toxic thoughts it can over time sabotage a seemingly healthy relationship.
“For example if a partner is saying, “I need you to please pick up after yourself more often,” yet inwardly thinking, “You are always going to be a slob,” then no paraphrase will rid themselves of this toxic underlying belief.”
Dr Bernstein says for a toxic-thinking partner to benefit in this situation, he or she must first be willing to challenge the toxic thought.
He says couples need to acknowledge that many toxic thoughts begin with should. We tend to have unrealistic expectations of how we want our partners to act or react.
“In this way we tend to ‘should’ all over our partners. And even if we think we’re only doing so in the privacy of our own minds, it can come out in our tone or actions, often leaving a partner experiencing a different word that begins with sh,” he says.
“If you guessed that this word is shame, you’re correct. But if you can replace your shoulds with “would likes”, many toxic thoughts could be avoided.”
Techniques you can try:
Dr Bernstein says instead of saying “You should know how I feel.” Try thinking and saying, “I would like you to please hear me out on this.”
Instead of “You shouldn’t bring that up,” he suggests saying (and thinking) “I would like to consider what you are saying. Please let me sit with it for a little while before I respond.”
Dr Bernstein says he’s amazed at how toxic thoughts in couples occur so incessantly but are so often outside of true awareness.
“Taking the time to be mindful, catch your toxic thoughts, and dispute or change them will take you and your partner to a much better place in your relationship.”
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