My husband and I, way back when, were told in our premarital counseling session that when were in the throes of a disagreement we should avoid starting our sentences with “You never…”
“You never take out the garbage!”
We were told that “You never…” sounds like an accusation and puts people on the defensive. This can take a simple disagreement or even a discussion and make it into a fight.
It also is not true. It might be that your spouse forgets to take out the garbage often, but not “never.”
Finally, our premarital counselor said that to fight fair you should talk about the here and now and not dredge up old slights.
Don’t talk about all the times your spouse forgot to take out the garbage, talk only about this specific time.
I know that I might be careful with the way I talk to my spouse, but I wasn’t as careful with my kids. If my kids didn’t get into the car when I asked them to I would say:
“You never listen to me.”
If they were disrespectful I would say:
“You never respect me.”
If they wouldn’t clean up their toys I would say:
“You never do what I ask you do.”
And the fight would be on. Kids find this accusatory language to be annoying and unfair. They would become defensive and start countering with:
“Why should I listen to you?”
“You’re not the boss of me!”
I finally realized what I was doing and I thought, “Is it really true…Do they really never listen to me? Do they never show me respect? Are they really always non-compliant?”
I realized also that I was sending them a very negative message about themselves. I was telling them that they were not good listeners, they were disrespectful and non-compliant. I knew that the more times I pointed out that my kids were not listening or being disrespectful or non-compliant, the more likely they would perpetuate that behavior.
Instead, I started to omit the “never” from my vocabulary when talking to my kids. I also would just talk about the specific offense that was bothering me right then. I also started being more positive and tried to show them that I had faith that they could improve their behavior:
“I need you to put down your Legos and come to the car. You can listen to my directions. Yesterday you came right when I called you.”
“I know you can speak respectfully to me. You know how to change your tone to make it more respectful.”
“The toys need to be put away. I know that you can do what needs to be done.”
I like this way much better. I think I will never use never ever again.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.