Two words that will destroy any relationship

I remain slightly cynical of couple’s counseling. Which is surprising when you consider half my marriage was spent soaking in its waters; but for the life of me I can’t think of a single nugget of wisdom derived from all those hours on the couch. I’m not entirely hostile to this form of therapy, I’m sure many marriages have been saved through its intervention, I just don’t know of one. And I believe the primary reason for this is by the time most couples get around to seeking help the damage has already been irreversibly done.

Like the overwhelming majority of men, when my ex first suggested we get our own help, I nixed the thought of another sniffing our dirty laundry. I was a management major and had completed our company’s management training program, ergo I was rigorously prepared to fix any problem and especially that of a trifling marital concern. I certainly didn’t need a ‘professional’, for a fee mind you, doing so on our behalf.

I think you can accurately predict the outcome of any therapy session by the mood with which the patient arrives to the appointment. Like a child kicking and screaming on the first day of kindergarten, I had convinced myself this was going to be the longest hour of my life and a ghastly impediment to the enjoyment of my future Sunday afternoons. Considering the final outcome it’s hard to argue with my prophecy.


Of my several gripes the biggest has to do with the competitiveness innate in couple’s therapy. Yet this isn’t altogether surprising, after all two people who often would rather murder each other are in many ways attempting to demonstrate their marital righteousness like two attorney’s standing in front of a judge and jury hoping verdict is rendered in their favor. If she can get the therapist rallying to her cause she can finally prove that he is a jerk for leaving the toilet seat up and as such is guilty for their marriage falling apart.

I experienced this firsthand at our initial session. As she and I took turns presenting our laundry list of reasons why the marriage sucked and putting all the blame at the feet of each other we soon realized that if one was going to gain an upper hand drastic measures must be taken. In so doing, we availed ourselves of the two words that when blended produce the elixir of death for virtually any relationship.


Most of us blindly underestimate the power of our words. Words can miraculously uplift or they can utterly destroy and like Pandora’s box are impossible to return once set free. A relationship begins with mere words, ‘hi’, ‘would you like to go out for coffee?’, and they end in much the same way ‘I never want to see you again, ‘Why did I marry you?’.

Relationships will live – and they will die – by what we say.

After I met the Queen and knew we had the potential for something special, I made a solemn promise to myself that was unlike anything I had ever pledged in relationships before. It was a vow I knew if broken would signal the death knell for our future, though less earth shattering than other pledges it proved to be all the more honorable. I made the decision early on to avoid using those two words I had employed so many Sunday afternoons on that couch. Two words I knew from experience were like match and kindling capable of setting ablaze any relationship.  By themselves they are inconsequential, but when said in conjunction they resonate with deathly venom and a deep seeded maliciousness.

You never…

The first – you – is designed to separate, single out, and take aim. In the context of a relationship, the word takes the notion of unity and togetherness and tosses it on its head. Used to indict, the word demands walls be erected, defenses be readied, and sides be taken; it draws a line and digs a wide chasm between the couple.

The second word – never – is absolute and biased and says scores are being taken and wrongdoings are always tallied. It sends the message that grace isn’t free and forgiveness isn’t cheap. Use of the word suddenly makes the relationship conditional placing on it qualifiers where before there were none.

When used in tandem with any form of relationship faux pas such as, “you never talk to me”, “you never want sex”, “you never satisfy my needs”, the words serve to draw comparisons while showing insensitivity, selfishness, and a reluctance to see the others point of view. Everything a relationship needs to fail.


There were countless Sunday’s in that therapist’s office where she and I attempted to justify our sentiment by condemning the other for what we perceived as each’s greatest shortcomings. But in the end such brazen criticism only proved to further alienate one another and drive us farther away from any desire to make things work. It’s through those experiences that I can now tell the path a relationship is likely on by how they find fault with each other. When the condemnation only centers on the extremes, it’s a strong signal that person is or has closed himself off to even a possibility for the other to change. If all I can concentrate on is what the Queen doesn’t, how can I ever begin to appreciate what she does?

By eliminating those two words from our relationship vocabulary, we are left no choice but to reconsider our initial approach and tackle the issue at hand from a far more inclusive point of reference. By eliminating you we acknowledge some amount of responsibility and getting rid of never erases any perceived prejudice.

After all these years, I’m convinced it’s one of the simplest yet most effective ways to improve communication between couples. When our words are spoken from a place of peace and surrender instead of attack and counter attack we quickly discover we are listened to more intently and understood more respectfully. And as far as I’m concerned those are never bad things.

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21 responses to Two words that will destroy any relationship

  1. Good stuff. I never use absolute words…dang it!

    Anyway, my time in therapy had a different tune, I so desperately wanted it to work,I was willing to open each session by telling something I was feeling and I wanted to change in myself. This turned into a simple routine of
    1. I “confess”
    2. She agrees
    3. Therapist asks questions mostly to me about my horrible behavior and asks her “how does that make you feel?” But more in the “that makes you feel bad, huh?” Affirmative voice.

    It was really bad. I got to the point where I felt naked so I stopped talking. That was met with “why don’t you feel like you can talk?” And “you’re so quiet, we can’t make progress unless you feel you can talk.” Then I was perceived as mad and a barrier to further discussion. Mind you she never had to say a word and all I wanted was both of us to want to make progress.

    Ah well, nothing ventured nothing lost. (Yeah I know that isn’t how it goes)


  2. Heather

    Very well said, very well written. “grace isn’t free, & forgiveness isn’t cheap” – LOVED that! 1 single hour of counseling dealt my marriage it’s final blow. You can’t push a river – that’s what’s wrong with the hail Mary called marriage counseling!

  3. Mike

    Great article! I was in a PhD program for counseling psychology and left with a Masters. So I am kinda pre-disposed towards marriage counseling. However, in both of my marriages, it was useless.

    My first wife and I went to counseling for months, even years. Even before we got married. I wish our couselor had had the sense to say, ‘Look, you aren’t even married and you are seeing a counselor. Maybe you should pick another partner in life.’ But alas, she didn’t. And so we spent 4 years in a very ‘passionate’ (meaning fighting all the time) relationship that ended 11 years ago.

    My second marriage ended a few months ago. We went to one session with my counselor and my ex basically said she had given up on me long ago. So that was it – we were done. Unfortunately my ex only uses the word, ‘you’ now and hates me. Hard to believe this person once said ‘I love you’ and ‘I do’…

    I do totally agree those two words in combination are a death sentence to a relationship. Now we don’t have to read all those stupid relationship and self-help books!
    Cheers, –Mike

  4. JT

    Counseling is a total waste of time. As bad as you feel going in, you feel worse when you leave with a lighter wallet.

    Relationships just end and if you thought it was going to go bad you never would have entered into it.

    If you gave your best, move on and dont speak to the ex ever again unless it has something to do with your kids and then keep it brief as possible.

    My ex was every negative word I can think of, but what good does it do me to tell her what I think of her. It only makes me look bitter and pissed off which even if I am, I will never let her see it from me. Counseling only reminds you why your relationship is ending.

    If two adults cant communicate and work out their problems, you are only delaying the inevitable by getting some professional who pretends to care while billing you.

    To me its alot like going to a strip club and after the first time, I never went back.

  5. SingleLady

    My main outcome of our marriage counseling was that *I* learned a lot about myself that I think will help me in future relationships. This alone has made it worthwhile even if in the end the marriage wasn’t “saved”.

    And, I completely agree with “You never …” being removed from a person’s vocabulary and not just as it relates to marriage. Hackles get raised when those absolute accusations are brought out in all our interpersonal relationships.

    But, I would like to give a bit of love to our counselor. She was even-handed and good at keeping us on task instead of feeding the discord. Even the ex agrees that she was equally receptive to both of us, impartial and tried to make each session productive enough to find resolutions/understandings between us.

  6. Jeeth

    We didn’t go to counselling, but my ex wife used those 2 words a lot. Before I came to know the truth. 🙂

  7. You’re a pretty insightful guy CP. I second what SingleLady said about counseling being where I learned a lot about myself and how to approach future relationships. But one of the most memorable things was the attitude of the counselors after we had met with them only a couple of times… It was like a light switch when their attitude switched from trying to save a marriage to trying to mediate a separation. I think I’ll always remember how surprised I was when that happened the 3rd time.

    I also learned fairly quickly to stop using absolutes. I stopped because I hated when she did it.

  8. Ricky

    I have been so busy lately Kyle I haven’t been able to keep up with the blogs. You did a great marketing job on FB with this one though and I stopped in my tracks and came to read this one to find out what the two words are. Many great things said here even beyond the “two words”. IE: “Most of us blindly underestimate the power of our words. Words can miraculously uplift or they can utterly destroy”. I always appreciate your perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in word.

  9. Kyle Bradford – Author

    I’m just confrontational enough that I’d probably have called the therapist out. The feeling of being ganged up on is never good and especially so in counseling.

  10. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Thanks Heather, I’d be interested in knowing what is was about that hour that sent your marriage over the edge?

  11. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Thanks Mike.

    “Hard to believe this person once said ‘I love you’ and ‘I do’…”

    Understanding that phenomenon would save countless marriages.

  12. Kyle Bradford – Author

    I am more apt to support counseling for individuals than with couples. With the individual the issues we sense are internal and we can often use the insight of another to help figure them out, with couples the feelings are directed towards another person. I do believe there are times when it works but the most important caveat in that is how both must want to BE there for any success to happen.

  13. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Impartial is the key. Most aren’t. I would be interested in knowing the statistics of the percentages of marriages saved via counseling. If that number could even be determined.

  14. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Often the absolutes are used as a way for someone to justify, to themselves, the things they are doing they otherwise know is wrong. If one can claim that another isn’t meeting their needs (ever) then it’s easier to justify the sin.

  15. I still don’t understand why people use therapists. It seems like all the week’s faults are tallied up just to present to the ‘judge’ (as you said) at the end of the week. People seem to spend less time talking to each other and more time thinking what bad thing they can say ABOUT each other when the time arrives.

    Thankfully, my husband and I are apt enough to sit and talk through things. A bath together in nice warm water and a good soak works for us to talk out our week’s worries, triumphs etc.

    And you’re right about the 2 words. I try to stay away from them and say, ‘I feel like …’ instead.

  16. JC

    Great post.
    Love this site.
    Went to one day of counselling. biggest waste of time ever.
    It actually hurt us, no help was recieved.
    Counsellor basically said your marriage is doomed. 2 years later, she was right.

  17. Really insightful and well-stated. Pointing fingers and defensiveness never solves the situation. It only makes you build a wall up even higher against the other party.

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