When someone says hurtful things to you, it is natural to want to fight back and protect yourself. Consider for a moment, however, the effect that saying inflammatory words will have. Instead of resolving the conflict between you, the opposite may happen, and your argument could escalate further.
Ideally, the best reaction to your spouse saying hurtful things is to stay calm and respond to their words without yelling or hurting them back. While not the easiest thing to do, retaliating won’t solve anything and will likely just inflame the situation.
All relationships have their high points and inevitable low points. Work stress, tiredness, finances, and labor division can all spark occasional misunderstandings that lead to fights and emotional outbursts. But if you and your spouse are in constant unresolvable conflict, it may be time to keep an eye out for what may be a toxic or possibly abusive relationship.
How To Respond When Your Spouse Says Hurtful Things
Hold Your Tongue
People can say terrible, hurtful things in the heat of the moment and it’s easy to get angry and hit back at them. There isn’t any point however in retaliating with your own hurtful words which you might end up regretting.
Staying calm in the midst of conflict will benefit both of you in the long run. Remove yourself from the situation and the room if you need to. Leave the situation as it is for a while, let the steam blow off, and wait until either party apologizes.
Don’t Take the Words Too Personally
It’s hard not to take hurtful words to heart, especially when they come from someone you love so much.
While it doesn’t excuse their behavior, an emotional outburst may just be their way of venting their stresses and frustrations in other aspects of their lives. Don’t automatically assume that their words are directly reflective of your relationship.
Remember that words said in anger are often not meant. Your spouse is still the same person you love and loves you back. Don’t overthink the things they said in anger and don’t let them affect your self-worth and confidence.
Examine What Triggered the Outburst
Whoever came up with the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” lied. Words can be incredibly hurtful and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that your spouse doesn’t love you anymore, hates you, or wants a divorce.
Oftentimes, hurtful things are said in the heat of the moment and are not reflective of the quality of your relationship. They may be the result of a stressful week at work or problems in their relationship with someone else.
Talk to your spouse when they say hurtful things and see if anything is bothering them. Once you get down to the cause of their snapping, you can offer them your help and emotional support.
Evaluate and Accept Your Emotions
Just because you shouldn’t add fuel to the fire by striking back in your own anger doesn’t mean you should brush your own feelings off as nothing either. Accept that those feelings of hurt, anger, sadness, and whatever else you may feel are normal and valid.
Write them down, talk to someone about it, go for a walk. Do something that will help you cope and understand your emotions better. Processing your feelings will help you later on when you and your spouse talk about what happened.
Talk About It at a Calmer Time
Once you have both had time to calm down, it comes time to calmly and rationally communicate your feelings to each other without lashing out or yelling at them.
Explain to your spouse how their words made you feel, but don’t make it sound like you’re blaming them for it. Doing so will only make them feel attacked and become defensive.
For example, instead of saying “You were really hateful and mean to me the other day. I didn’t like the way you yelled at me and called me lazy”, go with “The things you said to me the other day, I felt very sad and hurt.”.
Allow your spouse some space to give you some explanation and apology for what was said. Once they understand the magnitude of what they said, they’ll be more conscious of what they say in the future.
Forgive and Forget
Forgive your spouse for what they said and forget the hurt and anger it caused you. Holding on to those feelings will only make the negativity you feel worse and lead to resentment and anger within the relationship.
Try to understand the situation from your spouse’s point of view. It will help you understand what they were feeling when they said what they said and make it easier for you to forgive them. Consider that if the roles were reversed, you would want to be forgiven as well.
Forgiving and forgetting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold them accountable though. Let them know how you feel about what was said and make sure that both sides make the effort to keep the situation from recurring.
Do Not Bring Your Children into It
An argument about an issue between the 2 of you should stay within its bounds. Bringing your children into the argument only aggravates the situation and stresses the kids out.
When kids see their parents upset or angry, they are likely to become similarly distressed. Studies have shown that even babies as young as 6 months old are sensitive to their mother’s moods and stress levels and have increased cortisol or stress hormone levels when exposed to conflict.
Having a single dispute or even a few occasional ones in front of your children isn’t likely to cause long-term harm. The risk factors for long-term harm come from the frequency and severity of the conflict.
If you have a disagreement or if one of you says unpleasant things about the other in front of your child(ren), make it a point that they also see you make up and work out your differences respectfully. Show them that even though their parents might fight sometimes, you still love and care for each other greatly.
Talk to Your Friends and Family About It
Your close family and friends should be your greatest support system and confidants in your times of need. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted loved one for advice and comfort when things go sideways in your relationship.
Seek Out a Professional’s Opinion
Sometimes, relationships need more help than what a couple can do on their own. Couple’s therapy can help resolve relationship conflicts and improve the communication between you and your spouse.
A therapist can also help you re-evaluate your relationship. Individual therapy can help you examine your feelings towards your spouse. If your spouse has been saying hurtful things to you for some time, a therapist can also point out possible emotional or verbal abuse.
Even the strongest and healthiest of relationships need help sometimes. Seeing a relationship counselor can help you work out small issues and prevent them from turning into bigger problems. It’s never too early or too late to seek out professional advice.