Banned phrases in our marriage

15 September 2020

Today is our eighth wedding anniversary! Eight years ago today was the most beautiful, crisp, blue sky Saturday in Connecticut we could ever have asked for. I can still feel moments so clearly from that day – literally feel what the air, the dress felt like on my skin. The memories from earlier are clearest: arriving to the Inn for hair and makeup in the dark of the morning, sitting on the bed to copy out my vows onto an index card while the moms and sisters milled around, stepping out of the car at my house, standing on the point in the breeze and sun waiting for portraits to be taken. It was a perfect, beloved day.

The eight years since then have been equally beloved. I am a words girl, and yet words could never express the relationship John and I have, or how precious it is to me. He is my other half, my best friend, the most loving dad, the first person I want to celebrate or cry or dream or do anything else with. He makes everything more fun, he holds everything together. He is principled, loyal, hardworking, smart, generous… I could go on :) God is so very good to have created him and to have brought us together.

And yet, we are still two imperfect people. We leave the dishes in the sink, lose our patience, snap at each other, disagree about how things should be done, argue over whether food in the refrigerator can be eaten. And so today, for this celebration of long-lasting love, I thought I’d share something practical that has been incredibly helpful in our marriage: specifically banning certain phrases.

Like us, I’m guessing you have phrases that, when uttered by your partner, (almost) literally send you through the roof. It’s like you can feel your blood pressure rise, your face redden, maybe some smoke come out of your ears — taking an otherwise level 5 argument to a level 10 in a snap. We have two:

The first: “What is wrong with you?” Which is usually expressed more like, “what is wrong with you?!?!?” This needles us, I think, because it implies that WHO WE ARE is the problem, not what we are doing or thinking.

The second: any variation of “calm down” or “relax” – because obviously, those are the least calming or relaxing words in the English language, and the last thing you want to hear when you are decidedly not calm nor relaxed.

For you, it’s probably other phrases. Maybe you can think of yours right now :)

Once we realized that these phrases had a unique ability to explode arguments, we simply decided to ban them. And for several years, we have, to great effect. Of course, we still get into arguments, but this simple change has helped us work through them in a more productive way and left us less bruised in the process. In fact, if one of us lets one slip on accident, they actually now serve as something of a pressure release valve, taking down the temperature a few notches.

How comforting it is that the smallest changes can make such big differences even in relationships as grand and complicated as marriage! Whether things seem hard or easy in yours right now, never hesitate to move the needle just a little bit in the right direction. It will make a difference.

Now, of course, I would love to hear: what is the phrase that is (or should be) banned in your relationship? :)

All photos by Tanja Lippert, who is the literal best. I opened up the folder to choose a few images for this post and didn’t get past our wedding morning – then thought it might be fun to share a few “behind the scenes” snaps. After all, after eight years, you’ve seen all the glamour shots already :)

P.S. Observations on our first anniversary and putting on our work clothes

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September 15, 2020 8:16 am

We have banned “you always” or “you never” because… it’s simply not true a majority of the time. I may THINK my husband has never made the bed, but chances are he definitely has at some point in his life :) We also use that as a way to release the pressure valve in conversations as well!

September 15, 2020 9:47 am
Reply to  Chelsey

Ditto, Chelsey!! That was my very first thought when I saw the title of Em’s blog post: we have absolutely banned “you always” or “you never” in our marriage, and it’s been so helpful to recoganize that over the years!

Victoria B
September 15, 2020 8:29 am

We haven’t banned this one, but we should: “You are in a ___ mood today.” insert crabby or feisty or whatever. That always sends me over the edge. I am sure my husband would have one to add as well. ;)

September 15, 2020 9:48 am

Happy, happy eighth anniversary, Em and John!!

September 15, 2020 10:31 am

+1 to those above who’ve banned “you always” and “you never”! It helps focus the conversation exclusively to the situation in front of us, not a lifelong trend.

September 15, 2020 2:31 pm

Love seeing these “behind the scenes” photos! We haven’t banned any phrases in our marriage but we have banned interrupting. We don’t argue often but even when we’re in a deep discussion about complicated and difficult topics, we try to remember to not interrupt. My husband and I jokingly say “what is wrong with you” to each other so much, like when I trip (I do this often) or when he tells a bad joke. It always makes us go into a fit of giggles. In the heat of an argument or out of annoyance, no way! That would definitely hurt.

Happiest Anniversary!

September 15, 2020 2:35 pm

Happy Anniversary! I can’t think of a phrase we’ve “banned” as we approach our first wedding anniversary, but I can think of two words/phrases I’ve tried to incorporate more than ever this year — please and thank you! I tend to be… bossy. :) (But hey, at least i recognize it!) Showing gratitude to my husband and simply asking nicely and saying thank you early and often has been immensely helpful. I know it makes him feel loved and appreciated, it helps me be gentler and approach situations with a heart of gratitude. Win-win!

September 15, 2020 2:59 pm

I love these pictures:) And this post is inspiring. We haven’t banned any phrases, but we probably should consider banning one, or two or three or ten LOL Ben actually reminded me last night that we banned “the D word” from our marriage. And I guess the ban has actually worked because I didn’t even know what word he was talking about! (It’s Divorce!).

September 15, 2020 2:59 pm

I agree, it was nice to see these new pics! I love the sisters getting ready, too!
Someone, not my husband but a client, just told me, “you don’t sound as happy as you normally do.” Errrm, that DEFINITELY made me not as happy as I normally am (!!!). If only we could ban phrases with the world in addition to husbands! :)

September 15, 2020 9:27 pm

Happy anniversary to you and John! I really enjoyed this post – so much so that brought it up with my husband over dinner tonight. We had to really think and work together to come up with words or phrases that are inflammatory during disagreements. Thanks for inspiring our conversation with your always insightful writing on marriage!

September 16, 2020 11:29 am

Oh, I just love you two, and I love these not-before-seen wedding photos!! Can’t believe it’s been eight years!
We don’t have any officially banned phrases but I know we both try very hard to avoid the always/never accusations. One we should probably ban is any variation of “geez” or “oh my gosh” said in frustration–filler words that do literally nothing but make the other person feel bad. No point!

September 17, 2020 1:50 pm

Mine would be any questions that is actually a criticism i.e. “Are you going to ever take care of the laundry?”, “hey, how late are you planning on sleeping in while I take care of everything?”, etc. It’s much better if we calmly and directly state our concerns/annoyances rather than put it in question form.

September 26, 2020 5:00 pm

The phrase we’ve banned is “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” In fact, I think that one should be banned from every relationship, not just marriage. :)