"You never want to have sex." "You always yell at
me." "You should give me what I want." "You
ought to do a better job." "You must finish this today."
These are statements that I often hear during couples counseling
sessions. These statements have one communications-destroying element
in common. The listener is almost guaranteed to become defensive
and unwilling to continue listening to the speaker.
| Dr. Steven
First, "you" statements are likely to cause the listener
to become defensive, as they often sound blaming or directive. I
am yet to meet a person who wants to be blamed or told what to do.
Second, the underlined words (in the opening paragraph) often
have a powerful, negative impact on communications.
Let's look at "should," "ought," and "must."
Who is to say that any of us should, ought, or must do anything,
ever. These three words take away choice and limit options. By using
any of these three words the speaker is imposing a magical, external
pressure on their partner while simultaneously cutting off creative
Consider this fictional couple. Bill says, "You should give
me what I want." Bill's wife, Rita, now feeling defensive,
might say, "Why should I?," or "Who says I should?"
Bill is then liable to feel defensive in response to Rita's challenge.
The likely outcome: Bill and Rita both become defensive, angry,
and withdrawn. They will not resolve their conflict or understand
each other's feelings.
Consider another hypothetical couple. Julie says, "I feel
hurt that we don't have sex more often." Julie's unmarried
partner, Paul, having neither been told what to do or blamed for
their sex life, might respond, "I'm sorry Julie, I know that
you want to have more sex. I'm not sure what to do." The likely
outcome: Julie and Paul will continue their conversation and will
begin to understand each other's feelings and needs better. Will
they resolve the issue of how often they have sex? Maybe and maybe
not. But, they will be able to talk about their issues with greater
understanding and without becoming angry. The quality of their relationship
will be better than the quality of Bill and Rita's relationship
even though neither couple necessarily resolved their issues.
Next time we'll take a close look at "Never" and "Always."
If eliminating "should," "ought," and "must"
from your conversations doesn't lead to fewer arguments in your
relationship, it might be time to see a relationship specialist.
If you are in a relationship where you are being either emotionally
or physically abused, or if you are concerned that you might harm
yourself or someone else, please phone the 24-hour-per-day Crisis
Line at 215-7082. A trained counselor will help you through your
Dr. Steven Cohn is the Director of the Portland Couples Counseling
Center. He specializes in treating couples from all backgrounds.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cohn or if
you would like to request a complimentary brochure, please phone