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  • Writer's pictureTerrell Pugh

What Not to Say in Marriage Counseling: 17 Things to Avoid Saying in Counseling

What Not to Say in Marriage Counseling

Entering marriage counseling is a significant step for couples seeking to overcome challenges in their relationship. It's a process that demands honesty, openness, and a willingness to work on oneself and the relationship. However, just as important as it is to share your thoughts and feelings, it's equally important to be mindful of how you express them. Here we list 17 common communication pitfalls that couples should avoid during counseling sessions, offering insights into fostering a more positive and productive dialogue.

Common Communication Pitfalls in Marriage Counseling

1. Accusations and Blame

  • What Not to Say: "It's all your fault we're in this situation."

  • Why to Avoid: Accusations and blame can put your partner on the defensive, leading to conflict rather than constructive conversation. It shifts the focus from resolving issues to defending oneself.

  • What to Do Instead: Focus on expressing your feelings and how certain actions affect you, using "I" statements rather than "you" statements.

2. Absolute Statements

  • What Not to Say: "You never listen to me" or "You always ignore my needs."

  • Why to Avoid: Absolute statements can exaggerate the situation and make your partner feel unfairly criticized. It closes off the possibility for acknowledgment of efforts made and progress.

  • What to Do Instead: Point out specific instances and discuss patterns without generalizing behavior as always or never happening.

3. Bringing Up the Past

  • What Not to Say: "This is just like the time when you..."

  • Why to Avoid: Rehashing past grievances can derail the conversation, preventing you from addressing the current issue. It can also signal an inability to forgive and move forward.

  • What to Do Instead: Stay focused on the present issue. If past issues are unresolved, discuss them as separate, specific concerns.

4. Threats or Ultimatums

  • What Not to Say: "If you don't change, I'm leaving."

  • Why to Avoid: Threats can create fear and insecurity, undermining the trust and safety necessary for effective counseling. It can pressure your partner into making insincere changes out of fear rather than genuine desire to improve.

  • What to Do Instead: Express your needs and the seriousness of the situation without making threats. Discuss the consequences of actions in a way that doesn't manipulate or coerce.

5. Dismissive Remarks

  • What Not to Say: "That's ridiculous" or "You're overreacting."

  • Why to Avoid: Dismissing your partner's feelings or concerns invalidates their experience and can contribute to feelings of loneliness or misunderstanding.

  • What to Do Instead: Acknowledge and validate your partner's feelings, even if you don't fully understand them. Show empathy and a willingness to listen.

6. Comparisons to Others

  • What Not to Say: "Why can't you be more like [another person]?"

  • Why to Avoid: Comparing your partner to others can make them feel inadequate and resentful. It undermines their unique qualities and the efforts they are making.

  • What to Do Instead: Appreciate your partner's individuality. Discuss behaviors or changes you hope to see without drawing comparisons to others.

7. Sarcasm and Mockery

  • What Not to Say: "Oh, you're a real genius, aren't you?"

  • Why to Avoid: Sarcasm and mockery can be hurtful and demeaning, eroding trust and respect in the relationship.

  • What to Do Instead: Maintain a respectful tone, even in disagreement. Express your frustrations directly and constructively.

8. Interrupting

  • What Not to Say: [Interrupting your partner mid-sentence to contradict or correct them.]

  • Why to Avoid: Interrupting signals that you do not value what your partner is saying and can escalate tensions.

  • What to Do Instead: Practice active listening. Wait for your partner to finish speaking before responding.

9. Minimizing the Issue

  • What Not to Say: "This is just a small thing. You're making a big deal out of nothing."

  • Why to Avoid: Minimizing the issue invalidates your partner's feelings and concerns, hindering the resolution process.

  • What to Do Instead: Acknowledge the significance of the issue for your partner. Work together to understand its roots and implications.

10. "I'll change if you change"

  • What Not to Say: "I'll only start doing that if you start doing this."

  • Why to Avoid: Conditional commitments can create deadlock situations where no progress is made.

  • What to Do Instead: Take responsibility for your actions and changes you need to make, regardless of your partner's actions.

11. Using the Counseling Session as Leverage

  • What Not to Say: "I'll tell the counselor how bad you are."

  • Why to Avoid: Threatening to use counseling sessions as a battleground undermines the purpose of therapy and can create anxiety about the sessions.

  • What to Do Instead: View counseling as a safe space for both of you to express yourselves and work on the relationship collaboratively.

12. Labeling or Name-Calling

  • What Not to Say: "You're just lazy/selfish/irrational."

  • Why to Avoid: Labeling or name-calling attacks your partner's character and shuts down productive communication.

  • What to Do Instead: Describe specific behaviors and how they affect you, focusing on the issue rather than attacking the person.

13. "You should just know"

  • What Not to Say: "If you loved me, you would know why I'm upset."

  • Why to Avoid: Expecting your partner to read your mind is unrealistic and can lead to misunderstandings and frustration.

  • What to Do Instead: Clearly communicate your feelings and needs. Don’t assume your partner understands what you haven’t expressed.

14. Focusing on Winning the Argument

  • What Not to Say: "See, even the counselor agrees with me!"

  • Why to Avoid: Treating counseling as a competition where you must win arguments misses the point of therapy, which is to improve the relationship, not declare a victor.

  • What to Do Instead: Focus on understanding your partner’s perspective and finding common ground.

15. Questioning the Counselor's Competence or Bias

  • What Not to Say: "You’re just siding with them because [reason]."

  • Why to Avoid: Discrediting the counselor can undermine the therapeutic process and deflect from the issues at hand.

  • What to Do Instead: If you have concerns about the counseling process, address them respectfully outside of the session, focusing on how to make the process work better for both of you.

16. Keeping Secrets from the Therapist

  • What Not to Say: [Withholding significant information or feelings from the therapist during individual or joint sessions.]

  • Why to Avoid: Keeping secrets from the therapist can hinder the therapeutic process, preventing the counselor from fully understanding the dynamics of your relationship and the issues at hand. Transparency is key to addressing the root causes of marital discord and working towards resolution.

  • What to Do Instead: Commit to honesty in your sessions, even when it feels uncomfortable. Trust in the confidentiality and professionalism of your therapist to handle sensitive information appropriately.

17. Diagnosing Your Spouse

  • What Not to Say: "You're clearly a narcissist" or "You have anxiety, and that's why our marriage is struggling."

  • Why to Avoid: Attempting to diagnose your partner not only oversteps boundaries but can also lead to resentment and defensiveness. Diagnoses should be left to professionals who can assess individuals properly and offer the necessary support.

What to Do Instead: Focus on behaviors and their impact rather than labeling or diagnosing. If you believe mental health issues are affecting your relationship, encourage seeking help from a qualified professional in a supportive manner.

Arise and Live Christian Counseling Can Help

In navigating the journey of marriage counseling, the significance of effective communication cannot be overstated. At Arise and Live Christian Counseling, we have witnessed firsthand the profound changes that occur when couples learn to avoid common communication pitfalls. Through our dedicated approach, thousands of couples have not only learned how to communicate better but have also deepened their understanding and connection with each other.

Our counseling sessions are crafted to directly yet gently identify and address the communication pitfalls mentioned earlier. By providing a safe and supportive environment, we help couples recognize when they might be falling into these harmful patterns. Our approach is rooted in the belief that awareness is the first step toward change. We emphasize the importance of honesty, empathy, and respect in every interaction, guiding couples to replace accusatory language, absolute statements, and other negative forms of communication with constructive and affirming alternatives.

At Arise and Live Christian Counseling, we are committed to helping both spouses in an unbiased manner, ensuring that each partner remains accountable to their words, behavior, and commitment to change. This accountability is crucial for fostering a climate of trust and mutual respect, where both partners feel valued and heard. Our counselors strive to empower couples to take active roles in their healing process, equipping them with the tools and strategies necessary for effective communication.


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