6 Phrases to Avoid in Families

I remember the saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” I see the truth of that statement more and more as I age. Some things are just better left unsaid. Here are six phrases that are better left unsaid in families. These phrases can devastate family relationship and family members.

  • Person Annoyed by Others Talking“Can you be more like…?” “Your brother never did that!” Comparisons diminish people. They wreak havoc on a positive self-image. Most comparisons place the listener on the negative end of the comparison. But, even being on the positive end of a comparison tears a person’s self-image down. No matter the comparison, the person being compared is thrust into a competition for acceptance and value, one in which they are always at risk of falling on the negative side. Avoid the risk; don’t compare.
  • “I should have never gotten married.” “I wish I could just get out of this place.” Any threat of separation, divorce, or leaving—whether it be direct or indirect, blatant or subtle—increases fear, insecurity, and distrust in the person making the threat and in the overall family stability. Insecurity, fear, and mistrust results in misbehaviors tantrums, arguing, clinging, and other behaviors that strain a family and demand your attention.
  • “My mother says….” “When I grew up, my family….” “You’re acting just like your mother (or father).” Bringing the in-laws or grandparents into every family argument is a sure way to push your spouse away. Whether you praise your own family or criticize your spouse’s family, you will alienate your spouse. When you marry, you leave your father and mother to form a new family with your spouse. Sure, our parents can provide us with a model to emulate and offer us advice on occasion, but our conflicts belong to use. Our decisions are ours to make, our traditions for us to establish, and our lives for us to shape. So, leave the in-laws out of it.
  • “It’s about time you….” “Good job, finally!” “Yeah, that was a smart decision.” Sarcasm and back-handed compliments do not build stronger family relationships. They break down relationships and people. They make others feel like they “are not good enough” and can “never do enough to make you happy.” Ultimately, they make us feel unaccepted, inadequate, and unworthy.
  • “Why are you upset? You have no reason to be upset!” “You like this and you know it.” “That does not hurt; now quit crying!” Telling family members what they like and how they feel is intrusive. It communicates a belief that you know them and can manage their inner life of emotions and thoughts better than they can themselves. It sounds rather arrogant, doesn’t it? It also makes them feel like something is wrong with them. It produces an extreme sense of guilt and inadequacy. It creates a sense of dependence. Let your family members tell you what they like and how they feel. You can simply take the time to listen…and learn.
  • “How come you never…?” “Why do I always have to yell to make you…?” When absolutes (words like “never” and “always”) enter into family conversations it “always” spells trouble…oops, I mean it “often” means trouble. Absolutes are powerful words that imply unchanging traits, no exceptions, never right, and always wrong. These phrases damage a person’s self-image and motivation. They replace understanding with resentment and intimacy with bitterness. If you hear absolutes coming out of your mouth, slow down and recall times that counter the absolute…then watch your perspective of the person’s behavior change. Rather than using absolutes, focus on the specific, temporary situation being dealt with.


These six phrases can devastate family members and family relationships. Avoid them. Even better, replace them with phrases of encouragement, love, and appreciation.

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