These “elements of style” might just keep you off the couch tonight.
“This is just the kind of silly nonsense up with which I shall not put.”Author unknown, but definitely not Winston Churchill.
You are an excellent communicator. You read the classics and the poets and are well-spoken and articulate. So it is a mystery why, according to the person you love most, you seem to be saying the wrong thing.
I’m sure it’s not your fault. You’re awesome, and your intentions are spot on.
Mistake #1: Improper use of prepositions (“as if” you’re talking about your feelings).
You watch the Bachelorette (or someone else in your household does), so you know you’re supposed to talk about your feelings if you want an awesome relationship. You’re not sure why it’s not working.
A very common error is to place a preposition after the word “feel”. </When a sentence starts, “I feel”, it gives the listener the impression that emotional vulnerability is about to follow. This is the equivalent of a conversational “bait and switch” and is likely to leave your listener frustrated.To avoid this error, simply make sure that an emotion follows the word “feel”.
Incorrect: I feel that you’re wrong.
Correct: I feel </frustrated</ by what you’re saying.
Incorrect: I feel like you need a new job.
Correct: I worry that you’re unhappy at work.
Incorrect: I feel that the best way for us to be closer is for you to stop checking your email every five seconds.
Correct: I feel disconnected when you check your phone during dinner.
Mistake #2: Use of conjunctions (but not in a good way)
This rule is similar to Mistake #1, except worse.
Never follow a positive statement with a conjunction. It’s like giving someone a beautifully wrapped gift, but inside there is a turd
Ending compliments and apologies with a period are the fastest and easiest way to remind your partner that you like them.
While it is true that it is a good idea to cushion negative feedback with positivity, you’ll have much more luck if you don’t do it in the same sentence. When it’s time to raise a difficult topic, do it separately in a kind respectful manner. I’ve written a how-to article about it here.
In the meantime, keep your apologies and compliments free of caveats.
Incorrect: I’m sorry , but you have to admit, your idea was dumb and you should have known better.
Correct: I’m sorry I insulted your intelligence.
Incorrect: You have a great sense of humor when you’re not being sarcastic.
Correct: You have a great sense of humor.
Incorrect: Thanks for trying to help, but you have no clue how to fold a load of laundry.
Correct: Thanks for folding the laundry.
Mistake #3: Pronoun-antecedent errors
The third most common trap is the incorrect use of pronouns, and it can play out in a variety of different ways.
Self-defense is a normal evolutionary response to any perceived attack. As soon as you use the pronoun, “you”, it is likely that your statement, however well-intentioned, will be interpreted as a criticism or blame. This is why you’ve been told to use “I” statements starting in 3rd grade. It is still true that using “I” rather than “you” decreases the likelihood that your statement will be perceived as an attack.
Use first-person instead of second-person.
Incorrect: You drive like a maniac.
Correct: I’m feeling frightened.
Incorrect: You are so cheap.
Correct: I’d really like to increase our weekend restaurant budget.
Incorrect: You better not be late this time or I’ll miss my flight.
Correct: It’s really important to me that we leave for the airport with plenty of time to check-in without having to rush.
*Exception: It is permissible to start a sentence with the word “you” if and only if positive feedback follows.
You look hot.
You are a tremendous human.
You are absolutely right about that. (pro-tip: say this every time it’s true.)
The second pronoun error is based on what we know from relationship research about the importance of team-work and healthy interdependence. A successful relationship progresses from “me” to “we” as it becomes more serious.
The easiest fix is to use the first-person plural when alluding to anything relational in nature.
Incorrect: I’m so excited about my wedding.
Correct: We’re so excited about our wedding.
Incorrect: Sorry we’re late, she took too long in the shower.
Correct: Sorry we’re late, we hope you weren’t waiting long.
Incorrect: I‘m raising my kids to be kind and respectful.
Correct: We’re raising our kids to be kind and respectful.
Mistake #4: The use of run-on sentences, comma splices, and sentence sprawls
It’s important to use short clear sentences if you want to be understood.
If you don’t, it will make it harder for your listener to empathize with you when you go on and on with numerous examples of how your partner is letting you down, and you’ll lose their attention in the midst of all the details which is much more likely to lead to you feeling unheard and not listened to, and you might even think it’s your listener’s fault for being a bad listener instead of you working to try to be more concise in getting your ideas across.
Here is how to apply this concept in real life.
Incorrect: I’m feeling really frustrated right now because when I come home the house is an absolute mess and it was immaculate when I left and you know this is really important to me because acts of service is my love language. Don’t you remember we literally had a huge fight about this last week? It literally takes 5 seconds for you to forget everything you agreed to…
Correct: Hey babe, can you do me a favor and try to remember to pick up the clutter in the living room before dinner?
Mistake #5: A list of words to never say
Certain words don’t belong in a conversation with the love of your life. It’s best to keep these words out of your vocabulary entirely to keep your communications productive and loving:
Never: You never take my feelings into consideration.
Always: You always choose the t.v. show.
Finally: I’m so glad you finally learned how to make coffee.
Over: This relationship is over.
Literally: I literally told you this 5,000 times.
You may have erroneously thought that love and happiness come from deeply treasuring one another and a lifetime of mutual give and take.
Now you see that love as as easy as not dangling a participle or splitting an infinitive.