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“If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

I am sure this is not the first time you’ve heard this said. I can vividly remember my mother saying this to me in the middle of an argument with my sister. It helped to stop me in my tracks, occasionally, before I said something that really hurt. We should work to say nice, kind things to each other, things that build one another up. I agree with that premise.

What I don’t agree with is the premise that we should keep our mouths shut about things that need to be said. When building a relationship with someone, we have to be honest and with honesty comes feedback that may hurt. If we hide behind the premise that we should only say nice things to people, we block ourselves from growing in relationships. We grow with others when we are honest and vulnerable with them. That doesn’t mean that nasty and cruel things should fly out of our mouth. What it does mean is that we should speak up when we are hurt or upset. If we remain silent, if we don’t express our feelings, they will fester inside of us and damage our relationships in the long run.

As a therapist, I often work with couples on creating a space where they can say things to each other that might be upsetting. To do this successfully, it is helpful to set time aside throughout the week to have a check-in. The goal of this check-in is to address things that have happened and to share with each other when you are calm rather than at the height of your emotion. Having a regular check-in prevents issues from lingering throughout the week and allows for time to repair.

Using a preface or phrase, like those listed below, prior to addressing difficult topics can make communications easier.

-          In working to be honest, I need to share…

-          What I am about to say might upset you, but I know I need to share it for us to be closer…

-          I would like to share with you some things that I am upset about…

-          I feel that I need to share this with you, and I don’t know how it is going to come out, so please hear me…

Using prefaces like these help the receiver of the information understand what you are trying to work on. It doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get upset, but it does clarify the purpose/reason you are saying what you are saying.

There are many times in my own relationships that I will say, “Ok this isn’t going to come out right, so I will say it and clean it up in a minute.” No matter how messy it sounds when I say it, I have said it, and we can move forward. We do more damage when we hold things in than we do when we allow them to come out.

This week find opportunities to share, to speak. Work to clean up how you say what you say and when you choose to say it. Set a goal not to keep feelings in; rather express yourself to others in order to grow.