Steven P. Wickstrom
There are a couple of phrases that husbands and wives should delete from their vocabulary. There are also some sentences that use these phrases that you should never say to each other. They start with “you always,” and “you never.” You've heard them both and perhaps even said them to your spouse. It may come as no surprise to you that they are both negative statements. Let me you give an example of each phrase used in a sentence. You always leave the toilet seat up. You never listen to me. Sentences that begin with those two words are communication killers. Nothing shuts down communications faster than either of those two words.
Let's start with the “you always” statements. When you say to your spouse you always do this or that, what you are intending to say is that your spouse did not do something that you expected him/her to do. The problem with this is that you are expecting your spouse to correctly interpret the message that is usually hidden in the sentence. I say hidden, because odds are your spouse cannot read your mind and will miss what you are saying and may hear something completely different.
Let's say for example this past week you took the trash out of the kitchen and put it outside in the garbage can. Unfortunately, you forgot to put a new trash bag in the kitchen container. Your spouse noticed and said, “You always forget to put a new bag in the trash container.” You now come to the (incorrect) conclusion that your spouse is only trying to goad you by telling a gross exaggeration. The result: you dismiss not only your spouse's statement, but your spouse also. All that your spouse wanted you to do was to remember to put a trash bag in the container, but that's not what you heard. Here is what you heard: “You are a worthless, stupid, idiot, can't you remember to do something as simple as this?” This is why “you always” statements slam the door on communications. They are demeaning to the person who receives it.
Whenever you hear your spouse using a “you always” statement, your brain may take that phrase as a subconscious cue to ignore what is about to be said. For those of you who are reading this and going into shock, let me explain why. When I hear the “you always” statement, my mind immediately comes to the conclusion that everything I am about to hear will be exaggerated to the extreme. Since everything that I am about to hear is about to be exaggerated, there is no point in listening. Any point my wife is trying to make is immediately lost as soon as I hear those two words. What if your spouse responds the same way that I do? It is far better not to take the chance.
Is it fair to stop listening as soon as we hear the phrase “you always?” No, it's not. The polite and right thing for us to do would be to stop what we're doing, listen, try to figure out what it is our spouse wants to say, and correct the situation (or deficiency in ourselves). What about me? Do I do that? Sad to say, no I don't. Those two words shut me down like a light switch. I automatically react to those two words. My automatic reaction to the phrase you always is to shut off my ears. If I feel like living dangerously, I will return the (what I interpret as a) goad. To me, the phrase you always is an invitation to a fight. Because of my personality, I will generally avoid a fight with my wife. (I will grant that some fights are needed and can be healthy if dealt with properly.) Since I tend to avoid fights, I tend to ignore my wife when she uses those two words. Other men who enjoy a good fight will use you always as an opportunity to put on the boxing gloves and go for it. So if you're wondering why you and your spouse are fighting a lot, watch for the use of you always in your sentences.
The result is that we feel demeaned when we hear this phase even if our spouse has no intention of that happening. That is why we need to avoid using the you always phrase. It simply too easy to be misunderstood when we use the you always phrase. So how do we get around this?
I would much rather hear my wife say to me, “Steve, don't forget to put a trash bag in the kitchen container.” This statement does not make me feel like an idiot and does not goad me into fight. (Besides, that is usually not my wife's intention anyway.) I'll do the “oops” and go put a trash bag into the container. There is no miscommunication, no hidden meanings, and no hard feelings. This is a much better way for my wife to communicate to/with me. I think that you'll also find that this can be quite effective for you and your spouse.
Now let's move to the you never statement. You never is in all actuality very similar to you always and has the same effect. It shuts down communications. As with the you always statements, when you say to your spouse you never do this or that, what you are intending to say is that your spouse did not do something that you expected him/her to do. Once again the problem with this is that you are expecting your spouse to correctly interpret the message hidden in the sentence. Once again, this is a very generic phrase than can and will be taken the wrong way. Let me give you an example.
The you never sentence that some spouses hear most often is “You never listen to me.” (This should reveal your biggest problem if you hear this a lot.) When you hear this sentence (yes I am guilty also), is the message that your spouse is sending to you that you don't actually listen to one hundred percent of what he/she says? Yes it is (really)! And that is the way we interpret it when we hear it. If you are the one you who uses that sentence, this may not be the message you are intending to send, but in a sense that is beside the point. The point is that people shut down communicating as soon as they hear the words you never. The words you never are their cue that the conversation is over. They know that the words you never are an exaggeration (and a lie). Therefore their mind tells them that anything that follows will also be an exaggeration and a lie. Regardless of whether or not that is right or wrong; that is simply the way our minds work. You see, it does not matter how hard my wife is trying to get me to understand what she is saying. It does not matter how hard I am trying to get my wife to understand what I am saying. The words you never signal that the talking is done, finished, over. At that point we turn and walk away.
Is it fair to our spouse's to stop listening as soon as we hear “you never?” No, it is not. The right thing for us to do would be to listen, try to figure out what it is he/she wants to say, and make sure that we are hearing what our spouse wants us to hear. Do I personally do that? Hardly ever. I wish I could say the opposite, but I can't. I react negatively to the words you never so I usually don't realize until later that I just made a bad situation worse. Then I have to apologize and make things right between us. You may find that you react the same way.
Husbands and wives, there are two things that you can do for each other. First, do not use sentences that start with you always or you never. Those sentences have the exact opposite intent that you want. As general rule, men and women tend not be great communicators with each other (something about being from different planets). Using sentences that shut down communications only make husbands and wives worse communicators. You need the help of your spouse to communicate effectively with you. General statements don't help; specific statements do. If you are not straight to the point, chances are that your spouse won't see the point. Beating around the bush may only make your spouse wonder what ii is you are talking about and some of us (myself included) are usually not intelligent enough to ask. Some of us (myself especially) have a tendency to be rather dense unless you come straight to the point. You can help your spouse out a lot here, just in this one area alone.
Second, pray for your spouse daily. If there is an area in your spouse's life that is so bad that you need to use a you always or you never sentence, then your spouse desperately needs your prayers. The best way that you can “change” your spouse is by asking God to do it for you. I guarantee you that He will do a much better job at that than you will. You will only fail and cause yourself and your spouse much grief. Intercede for your spouse and watch what happens. Just beware; the person God changes first may be you. May God richly bless you and your spouse, and may He greatly enrich the communication between the two of you.
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