You schedule regular date nights with your partner, appreciate the small gestures and put your phone away when you’re together (aka phubbing). Congrats—you’re definitely off to a great start. But relationships take work and if you want to boost yours, you might want to pay attention to the words you use, say experts. And there’s one word in particular that therapists advise against if you want to keep your bond strong: should.
“I see many couples fall into the trap of the ‘shoulds,’ couples therapist Dr. Lauren Cook tells us. “This comes from their own internal judgment while also inserting perceived judgments or comparisons to other couples or society at large.”
FYI: the word ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t so great, either.
Think: You shouldn’t spend so much time playing video games or you should try harder.
Why is this word so problematic?
Per psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, “Thinking ‘should’ about someone you love, or being on the receiving end of a ‘should,’ creates negative energy and, over time, can be toxic for any relationship, especially a loving one.”
Why is this one word such a relationship buzzkill? It creates an unequal dynamic, says Dr. Cook. “For example, when one partner is telling the other what they ‘should’ be doing, they're putting themselves in a one-upmanship role while sending a message to their partner that they are inferior,” she explains.
Sure, it’s just one small word (that we’re definitely guilty of using on the regular with our S.O.), but rely on it too often and it could have a big effect—namely by chipping away confidence in the relationship.
Ok, so what should you say instead?
If you’re dissatisfied or concerned with something that your partner is doing, you certainly shouldn’t keep it inside. But rather than tell them what they should or shouldn’t be doing, Dr. Bernstein recommends using ‘would likes’ instead.
For example, rather than saying ‘You should have known what I meant,’ you could try, ‘I would like you to understand me more.’ Or instead of, ‘you shouldn’t drive so fast,’ reframe this as, ‘I would like you to slow down.’
It’s a simple switch but per Dr. Bernstein, this swap can help eliminate shame—a mega relationship killer. “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.”
Now excuse us while we go tell our S.O. that they should we would like them to load the dishwasher properly.