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How Do I Stop Saying Hurtful Things I Don’t Mean?

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One of my Clients Asks

When my wife asks me to do something I don’t want to do or when she gives me constructive criticism, I turn things around on her. I say things I don’t mean. I always apologize later but I know I hurt her feelings and I know I’m damaging our relationship. How do I stop doing this to her? 

Alex, 32

My Answer

It’s a healthy sign that you’re realizing the words you use are powerful. And right now, you’re using them as a weapon and you can see the damage that is being done to your relationship. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to change your behavior and improve the relationship moving forward.

Dr. Sydney Ceruto

Where to Start

When emotions run high in relationships, it’s easy to say hurtful things you don’t mean that can deeply damage the bond and trust. However, these comments can have lasting negative impacts. To stop this behavior pattern and improve your communication in relationships, take the following steps:

Take Full Responsibility for Your Behavior

The first step is taking complete ownership for your hurtful words and actions in the relationship. During a calm moment, have an open conversation with your partner. Explain that you recognize your outbursts are a problem, and you are committed to positive behavior change. Offer an explanation, but not an excuse – take full responsibility instead of blaming your partner. This lays the foundation for improving communication in your relationship.

Develop Emotional Awareness

Learn to recognize the signs that you are becoming overly emotional, which can lead to saying hurtful things. Signs like a rapid heartbeat, flushed face, or tense muscles indicate it’s time to take a break from the conversation before you communicate something hurtful in the heat of the moment. Develop a plan with your partner for these cool-down periods to prevent damaging communication patterns.

Practice Self-Reflection on Relationship Triggers

Engage in self-reflection to truly understand what triggers your defensive reactions and hurtful outbursts in the relationship. You may be making incorrect assumptions, having deep-rooted insecurities, or harboring unresolved issues that lead you to lash out. Identifying and addressing these root causes can help reframe your thoughts more positively and change unhealthy communication behaviors.

Improve Communication Habits in Your Relationship

Don’t ignore problems or bottle up concerns in the relationship, as this often leads to explosive outbursts later on. Instead, work on communicating issues calmly as they arise, rather than letting resentments build up until you’re upset. Choose the right moments to discuss concerns when you’re both in a calm, receptive state of mind. This proactive communication approach can prevent future hurtful comments. For more tips on improving communication in relationships, check out this blog post: https://mindlabneuroscience.com/improving-interpersonal-relationships-unlocking-the-secrets-to-strong-connections/

Seek Professional Relationship Guidance

If you struggle to change these unhealthy patterns on your own, consider seeking help from a couples therapist or counselor. A professional can provide guidance on managing emotions, improving communication skills, building emotional intelligence, and fostering healthier relationship dynamics. They specialize in helping couples break negative behavior cycles.

Be Patient and Persistent

Changing deeply ingrained behavior patterns and communication habits in a relationship takes significant time, effort and patience. Even with the best intentions, you may slip up occasionally. When this happens, take responsibility, apologize sincerely, and reaffirm your commitment to changing. With persistence and the right strategies, you can learn to express yourself in the relationship without resorting to hurtful language. The key is taking proactive steps to increase your self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and communication skills. With commitment to positive behavior change, you can stop saying unintended hurtful things and build a stronger, more positive dynamic in your relationship.

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Dr. Sydney Ceruto

A Pioneer in Neuroscience-Based Coaching

As the founder of MindLAB Neuroscience, Dr. Sydney Ceruto has been a leading force in integrating neuroscience into coaching and counseling for over two decades. With three master's degrees in psychology and two PhDs in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, she is widely considered a top expert in her field.

Harnessing the power of neuroscience-based coaching, Dr. Ceruto's innovative approach focuses on neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and neural pathway rewiring to foster lasting positive change in mental health.

Dr. Ceruto holds esteemed memberships in the Forbes Executive Council, Positive Performance Alliance, Wharton Executive Education Program, the International Society of Female Professionals, and executive writing positions for Alternatives Watch, Brainz Magazine, and TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.

Dr. Ceruto's accomplishments include:

  • The 2022 CREA Award.
  • A lead research position at NYU Steinhardt.
  • Volunteer work with Covenant House and the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI).

Her science-backed method of Neural Rewiring has successfully guided thousands of clients toward happier, more productive, and more resilient lives.