10 Things to Never Say to Your Spouse under Stress

husband talking to wife who looks upset

My husband and I just celebrated our fourteenth anniversary. Compared to many marriages, our union is still a mere teenager.

Yet, in our time together, we have sustained times of grief, sickness, job loss, wear and tear of household appliances, buying and selling of houses, and the raising of two kids. I can honestly say, we have seen our share of stress. And in those moments of stress, I have opened my mouth and the wrong words have come out a time or two.

Below is a list of things I have learned over the years of what not to say in times of stress, along with biblical wisdom for why these words would best be left unsaid.

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  • wife looking worried and anxious

    1. You will be fine.

    Authentic reassurance from a spouse is crucial in any stressful situation. We all need to feel empathy. However, there is a major difference between true empathy and a half-hearted, “it will be okay.” This only makes your spouse feel unheard.

    Psychologists argue that learning to communicate with compassion and authenticity helps a couple grow their relationship.

    Scripture challenges us as believers to be kind and compassionate toward one another, to encourage the disheartened and support the weak (Ephesians 4:32; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). These commands require us to proactively respond to those who are struggling.

    Early in my marriage, my husband used this phrase, intending it to show his confidence in me. I communicated to him how it made me feel. We now have a more open dialogue when I am under performance stress.

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  • wife looking upset with husband arguing

    2. "If you only knew what I was dealing with."

    When we hear our spouse complain, it is sometimes easy to want to turn the attention back to us. Hearing their stress reminds of our own. It only seems natural to let the moment become a whine party.

    However, saying “if you only knew…” implies that your spouse doesn’t perceive what you are feeling and minimizes their own stress. Paul encourages the early church to carry each other’s burdens and to do nothing out of selfish interests (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:3). These are helpful and convicting reminders in communicating with our spouses.

    3. Nothing

    The silent treatment is never the answer. However, silence is sometimes golden. In a stressful situation, words might not be the answer, but presence or action could be.

    When a close relative of mine passed away, my husband did not say a word to me for hours. He simply stayed with me, offering comfort and support when needed. As a chaplain, I saw couples respond in stressful situations. Some coped with the stress through withdrawal and the silence was deafening to the loved one.

    Even if you are scared you might say the wrong thing in a time of stress, communicate love and support to your spouse the best way you know how (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Galatians 6:10).

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  • 4. <strong>Anything Sarcastic</strong>

    4. Anything Sarcastic

    “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. … Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:9-13, 16)

    According to the American Psychological Association, research found that negative or hostile reactions with your partner can cause immediate changes in stress-sensitive hormones. While sarcasm can sometimes be meant for humor, it is often not received as intended.

    When I was younger, I thought sarcasm was the use of good wit. My husband began to point out that not everyone understood me as intimately as he did, and sometimes I came across as rude.

    Scripture reminds us that love must be sincere. In a covenant relationship as husband and wife, we need to honor one another above ourselves. This includes honoring our spouse with our words.

    Even if sarcasm comes naturally, we need to strive to find words to build up those we love in their faith, especially in stressful times.

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  • 5. "<strong>I need you to do ____, and _____, and _____."</strong>

    5. "I need you to do ____, and _____, and _____."

    In my relationship with my husband, nothing adds stress to stress like a massive honey-do list. While tasks must continue to get accomplished, the way in which the chores are doled out can be communicated with compassion.

    Before going to a stressed-out spouse, first ask yourself if you can do the task yourself. Then, if it is something that needs their assistance, remember to make the request politely and give them a reasonable timeline, while remembering to express appreciation (Hebrews 13:16; Philippians 2:4).

    6. "I meant to but…"

    “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

    If your spouse is overwhelmed and asks something of you, one of the easiest answers to give is “Okay.”

    However, one of the worst answers to give when they check back with you is, “I meant to, but.” This response only elicits more stress and frustration. Jesus warns against making promises you cannot keep.

    Galatians 6:9 reminds us to never tire of doing what is right. You can use this verse as a reminder and motivator when helping your partner in stressful times.

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  • woman and man couple holding hands sitting talking looking serious, how to respond to spouse doubts

    7. "That’s all? I wouldn’t be so stressed about that."

    Even if you disagree with why your partner feels the way they feel, it is disrespectful to tell them that they should not feel a certain way. Have compassion on their situation and try to look at it through their eyes.

    According to a research study done by marriageministry.org, one of the predictors on whether a marriage would fail was invalidation of the spouse. When a partner questions or negates the feelings of another, it breaks the trust on which a marriage is built.

    1 Peter 3:8 lists how we should treat one another: be like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble.

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  • couple backs to each other upset disagreement

    8. "Just get over it."

    Similar to the previous phrase, telling your spouse to get over their stressful situation minimizes their feelings and adds pressure on them by making them think that their feelings are wrong.

    In Romans 14, Paul reminds his readers to not pass judgment on one another and to speak kindly to one another.

    I have challenged myself in this area by practicing active listening with my husband. I try to engage in what is bothering him by asking questions and trying to understand his situation. This helps me better understand how he is feeling.

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  • couple talking looking worried

    9. "Relax."

    Initially, this phrase seems helpful. However, giving someone who is under stress the command or suggestion to relax is about as easy as making a toddler potty train himself. They simply do not have the tools necessary to make it happen.

    Instead, a better way is to help your spouse relax by doing something relaxing with them or for them. For example, suggest you take a walk together. This will allow them an opportunity to leave their stressful environment and get some exercise.

    Hebrews 10:24 encourages us to consider how we can spur one another on towards love and good deeds. What is something you can do this week for your spouse to help them relax?

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  • couple in a serious conversation

    10. "I’m sorry, but…"

    Compassion and empathy are characteristics people seek when they are under stress.

    When you tell someone you are sorry, it tells the person you empathize with their situation. However, when it is immediately accompanied by a “but,” it invalidates everything that you were initially saying. All the person hears is what follows the “but.” Your words matter.

    Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (ESV). This verse is helpful to remember because our words must fit our context.

    During times of stress, we must remember to cover our spouses in prayer. Our words are an expression of the vows we made on our wedding day. More importantly, we are a reflection of Christ to our partner. May our words and actions reflect Him so we can be the support and comfort we need to be to our spouse in times of stress.

    Photo Credit: © Getty Images/fizkes

    Cortney Whiting is a wife and mom of two preteens. She received her Master of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently teaches at a Christian school and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at her blog, https://recapturefaith.com.