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How to Stop Saying Hurtful Things: 7 Transformative Communication Strategies for Relationships

a heart shaped cactus with thorns depicting How to Stop Saying Hurtful Things in relationships

In any relationship, words have the power to heal or hurt. Many of us have experienced the regret of saying something hurtful to our partner in the heat of the moment. If you’re struggling with this issue, you’re not alone. This guide will provide you with transformative strategies to improve your communication and stop saying hurtful things you don’t mean.

Understanding the Impact of Hurtful Words

Before we dive into strategies, it’s crucial to understand why we sometimes say hurtful things and the impact these words can have on our relationships. Often, hurtful words stem from unresolved emotions, stress, or poor communication habits. The consequences can be severe, eroding trust and intimacy over time.

Why We Say Hurtful Things We Don’t Mean

It’s a common and distressing experience: in the heat of an argument, we lash out with words we don’t truly mean, only to feel intense shame and regret afterward. This phenomenon has roots in our neurobiology and emotional responses:

  1. Emotional Hijacking: When we’re upset, the emotional part of our brain (the amygdala) can temporarily override our rational thinking, leading to impulsive speech.
  2. Stress Response: Under stress, our prefrontal cortex – responsible for impulse control – functions less effectively, making it harder to filter our words.
  3. Learned Behavior: If we grew up in environments where hurtful communication was common, we might unconsciously replicate these patterns.
  4. Unmet Needs: Sometimes, hurtful words are a misguided attempt to express deep-seated needs or insecurities.

The shame we feel afterward is often a result of the disconnect between our values (how we want to treat our loved ones) and our actions in the moment. This shame, while uncomfortable, can be a powerful motivator for change.

A purple background with tiles spelling out regret for the hurtful things we say
Break the habit of saying hurtful things and get out of the dog house!

The Damaging Effects of Hurtful Words

The impact of hurtful words extends far beyond the moment they’re spoken. Repeated instances of hurtful communication can:

  1. Erode Trust: Each hurtful exchange chips away at the foundation of trust in a relationship.
  2. Create Emotional Distance: Partners may withdraw emotionally to protect themselves from future hurt.
  3. Damage Self-Esteem: Constant criticism or hurtful words can significantly impact a person’s self-worth.
  4. Establish Negative Patterns: Over time, hurtful communication can become the default mode of interaction, creating a toxic relationship dynamic.
  5. Lead to Relationship Breakdown: In severe cases, the accumulation of hurt and mistrust can lead to the end of the relationship.

Understanding these consequences can serve as a powerful motivator to change our communication patterns and prioritize kindness and respect in our interactions.

An Example From One of My Clients:

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.

The Neuroscience Behind Hurtful Communication

Recent neuroscience research has shed light on why we sometimes say things we don’t mean:

  1. Amygdala Hijack: When we’re emotionally triggered, the amygdala, our brain’s emotional center, can override our rational thinking, leading to impulsive and hurtful speech.
  2. Stress Response: Chronic stress can impair the functioning of our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control and rational decision-making.
  3. Neural Pathways: Repeated patterns of hurtful communication can create strong neural pathways, making it harder to break the habit.

Understanding these neurological factors can help us develop more effective strategies for change.

7 Transformative Strategies to Stop Saying Hurtful Things

  1. Practice the Pause
    When you feel anger or frustration rising, pause before speaking. Take a deep breath and count to ten. This simple act can help engage your rational mind and prevent impulsive, hurtful wor
  2. Develop Emotional Awareness
    Learn to recognize your emotional triggers and the physical sensations that accompany them. This awareness can help you catch yourself before you say something hurtf
  3. Use “I” Statements
    Instead of accusatory “you” statements, express your feelings using “I” statements. For example, say “I feel hurt when…” rather than “You always.
  4. Implement the T.H.I.N.K. Technique
    Before speaking, ask yourself if what you’re about to say
    T – True
    H – Helpful
    I – Inspiring
    N – Necessary
    K – Kind
  5. Practice Active Listening
    Often, hurtful words come from a place of feeling unheard. By truly listening to your partner, you can reduce misunderstandings and the likelihood of saying hurtful thin
  6. Develop Empathy
    Try to see things from your partner’s perspective. Empathy can help diffuse tension and prevent hurtful communication.
  7. Learn to Express Needs Assertively
    Many people resort to hurtful words when they don’t know how to express their needs effectively. Learn to communicate your needs clearly and assertively without attacking or blaming.
A woman lying on a bed with her hands on her face upset because her boyfriend said something hurtful to her
Now she is hurt and you are regretful. This can all be prevented.

The Role of Self-Reflection in Preventing Hurtful Communication

Self-reflection is a powerful tool in changing communication patterns. Regularly take time to examine your behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Ask yourself:

  • What triggers my hurtful words?
  • How do I feel before, during, and after saying hurtful things?
  • What unmet needs might be driving my behavior?

This self-awareness can help you identify patterns and make conscious changes.

Building a Culture of Positive Communication

Creating a positive communication culture in your relationship can significantly reduce instances of hurtful speech. Here are some ways to foster this:

  1. Express Appreciation: Regularly acknowledge and appreciate your partner’s positive qualities and actions.
  2. Practice Forgiveness: Learn to forgive both yourself and your partner for past hurtful words.
  3. Create a ‘Safe Word’: Establish a word or phrase either partner can use to signal a need to pause a heated discussion.
  4. Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate improvements in your communication, no matter how small.

The Power of Repair After Hurtful Words

Despite our best efforts, there may be times when hurtful words slip out. In these moments, knowing how to repair the damage is crucial:

  1. Take Responsibility: Acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused without making excuses.
  2. Apologize Sincerely: Offer a genuine apology, expressing remorse for your words and their impact.
  3. Make Amends: Ask your partner what you can do to make things right.
  4. Commit to Change: Express your commitment to improving and ask for your partner’s support in this process.

Seeking Professional Help

If you find it challenging to stop saying hurtful things on your own, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A qualified relationship coach or therapist can provide personalized strategies and tools to improve your communication skills.At MindLAB Neuroscience, we offer neuroscience-based coaching services that can help you and your partner develop more effective communication strategies. Our approach leverages the latest research in neuroscience to create lasting positive changes in your relationship dynamics. Learn more about our relationship coaching services here

Bringing It All Together

Stopping the habit of saying hurtful things is a journey that requires patience, practice, and commitment. By implementing these seven transformative strategies and understanding the neuroscience behind our communication patterns, you can build a stronger, more resilient relationship with your partner. Remember, every step you take towards improving your communication is an investment in the long-term health and happiness of your relationship.

Are you ready to transform your relationship communication? Contact MindLAB Neuroscience today to learn how our neuroscience-based coaching can help you build the relationship you desire.

#RelationshipAdvice #HealthyCommunication #StopHurtfulWords #EmotionalIntelligence #CouplesCounseling #RelationshipGoals #ConflictResolution #LoveLanguages #EmotionalHealing #PositiveCommunication

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Picture of Dr. Sydney Ceruto

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.