A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Things to Never Say to Your Family

Find out what phrases you should never utter to members of your brood.

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What not to say to your mother: “I hate you”

There are many reasons the mother-child bond is so special, so this is a relationship you don’t want to jeopardize. And as you probably know, hate is a strong word. It says that you have a passionate and intense dislike for someone. Yes, you may be upset or disgusted with your mother. But refrain from saying you hate her. “What if these were the last three words you said to your mother?” says Kristie Overstreet, a licensed professional clinical counselor, certified sex therapist and author of Fix Yourself First: 25 Tips to Stop Ruining Your Relationship. “If something tragic happened and this was your last statement to her, you’d have a difficult time healing. You never know when it will be the last time you speak or see her.” Try really hard to avoid saying something you’ll regret. “Walk away, grit your teeth, or take a deep breath instead of lashing out. Write down your thoughts and feelings so you can process them. Don’t use three words that may haunt you the rest of your life.”

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What not to say to your mother: “You already told me that”

“By telling your mother that she repeated herself, you’re coming off as rude and snarky, and even implying that she’s slipping mentally,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, health and relationships writer and coauthor of Is Your Job Making You Fat? How to Lose the Office 15…and More! “As a result, don’t be surprised if she responds angrily, curtly, or even accusingly.” Like you don’t ever repeat yourself? We’ve all said things more than once. But don’t lose your patience or fly off the handle when your mom does. Instead, try to relax her with some levity. Say something like “Really? No way! And then you did…”

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What not to say to your in-laws: “Your son/daughter prefers it like this”

Yes, many married women will admit that dealing with their in-laws can be rough. That’s why you should consider keeping certain phrases like “Your child likes it done this way” off-limits. Doing so will promote healthier communication. Telling a mother that her child likes his chicken how you make it will only get you in hot water. “Parent and child have the ultimate bond,” says Francesca Di Meglio, the former Newlyweds Expert for about.com and writer of the Italian Mamma blog. “Trying to one-up Mom or prove that your relationship with her child is better than the one she has will only hurt feelings and reap resentment.” Most parents—especially mothers—think they know their kids better than anyone. They likely won’t be amused if they’re corrected on that. Don’t miss what your mother-in-law is really thinking.

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What not to say to your in-laws: “Come over whenever you want!”

It’s nice that you’re trying to be amenable to spending time and sharing space with your in-laws. But you can open a can of worms by having an unqualified open-door policy. You’ll be setting up potential issues and a lack of boundaries. Instead, welcome her to your home—by express invitation. Di Meglio suggests you say, “I want you to feel welcome in our home, and I want to make sure the place is always appropriately prepared for you. Please call and let us know when you want to come over.” This way, you’re opening the door to your spouse’s parents while also suggesting that you want some forewarning. “A phone call also gives you the chance to tell them if the timing isn’t right for a visit,” she says.

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What not to say to your father: “I bet you can’t wait to get back to work”

It’s pretty out-of-touch to say that dads feel more comfortable at the office than with their grandkids. Your dad most definitely loves spending time with his grandchildren and likely enjoys spoiling them too! “While a man’s self-esteem and ego are driven by his career success, balancing family life and career are difficult for men,” says Julie Spira, an online dating expert, CEO of Cyber-Dating Expert and author of the bestseller The Perils of Cyber-Dating. “Try not to make him feel guilty about his time away from you.” We’re sure he’d rather play with Legos than process an expense report. “You’re taking away from the experience that your father is having,” says Overstreet. “You’re pretending that you know what he feels and thinks, which couldn’t be more false.” Instead, tell him how glad you are that he’s with you.

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What not to say to your father: “Call Mom and see if it’s OK”

Dad can make family-related decisions himself. “Having parents means sometimes your father will call the shots, and other times your mother will take the reigns,” says Spira. “Dividing responsibilities doesn’t always require a check-in for busy parents.” If he wants to call your mom/his wife about what brand of cereal to get at the supermarket, he’ll do so for sure. Just don’t make him feel like he has to run every little thing past her. “So many fathers feel they’re extraneous to the marital team,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert, and author of 8 Steps to a Sizzling Marriage. “When dads feel they have to ask permission from Mom, they may feel disposable.” Dr. Carle says that can make dads feel worthless. “Letting your dad take charge when he offers to do so will show you respect him as a parent and will take the pressure off your mom,” says Spira. These stories of the kindest, wisest dads will bring on all the feels.

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What not to say to your sibling: “Why are you being so protective?”

Would you be cool, calm, and collected if your brother or sister was hooking up with your best friend without speaking to you first? If you’re really into one of your brother’s friends, be respectful enough to tell him first and see how he feels before making a decision. Your sibling and his friend have a bond that may be impacted by your involvement. And you and your sibling have a connection too. “Sure, you’re an adult and can do what you want,” says Overstreet. “However, don’t make a careless mistake that will affect the relationship with your sibling who will be in your life forever.” Plus, he may know some red flags about the person that you don’t. Or on the flip side, he may reveal characteristics about his friend that could strengthen your romance, adds Dr. Carle. Check out these ways to stop sibling rivalry before it starts.

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What not to say to your boyfriend/girlfriend: “You never ask me how my day was”

Try to avoid speaking in absolutes. Phrases like “You’re always late” or “You never say I look pretty” are very hurtful. They probably aren’t truthful and they’re certainly rarely productive. “When you say these words, you’re essentially making a character assassination,” relationship expert Andrea Syrtash, author of He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing). You’re saying that he can never do anything right and you don’t think he can change.

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What not to say to your boyfriend/girlfriend: “I don’t believe you”

Trust is key to a healthy relationship. If you think he’s lying, don’t tell him that you don’t believe him as that will usually backfire, says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert, and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. To promote communication, inquire about what you’re questioning. Avoid firing off harsh statements. Instead, listen, says Lloyd. “By gathering all the facts first, you’ll be in a much better position to understand his behavior and then react appropriately.” (Here’s how you know you can trust your partner.)

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What not to say to your spouse: “Do I look like the maid?”

We’ve all said something to our mate that we regret. But toxic phrases, including being overly sarcastic, can harm a relationship to the point of irreparable damage. Sure, sarcasm may seem harmless at first. However, phrases like, “The dishwasher won’t empty itself” or “The lawn won’t mow itself,” can dig at your partner and communicate that you’ve been frustrated that your expectations haven’t been met. Hall suggests that you deal with issues lovingly and genuinely. That way they’re more likely to be heard by your partner. “Sarcastic comments that put your partner down will erode the relationship and are likely to leave him feeling frustrated,” says Hall. Find out more things you shouldn’t say to your spouse.

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What not to say to your spouse: “Jennifer’s husband is amazing”

He made you dinner on your first date and did the dishes too. Now he can’t even make reservations on your birthday, and dishes—he just leaves them in the sink. You’re constantly comparing your spouse to your best friend’s or the woman at school pickup who gushes about her hubby. You feel like you’ve settled for less than you should have. Just remember—the grass always looks greener from afar. You don’t know what’s really happening in someone else’s relationship. Behind closed doors, it may be unhealthy and unhappy. “Stop focusing on everyone else’s relationships and put that jealous and envious energy into working on your relationship,” says Laurel House, a dating and empowerment coach. Instead, here are some things you should say to your spouse each day to deepen your relationship.

Stacey Feintuch
Stacey Feintuch contributes to RD.com's Health and Relationship sections. Her articles have appeared in Woman's World, Boca Raton Observer and Healthywomen.org, among other sites and publications. She earned her MA in magazine writing from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and her BA in journalism from The George Washington University.