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Four words that will kill a relationship (and how to avoid them)

Building strong relationships with others is essential in all areas of our lives: business, friendships, dating, parenting, etc. It’s interesting to note that our daily word choices can undermine our attempts at getting closer to other people.

We can unwittingly make ourselves sound untrustworthy, judgmental, and belittling when we use the following words in our everyday interactions. These four words are relationship killers. Try to avoid them at all costs!

Four words that will kill a relationship




Unless you’re psychic and know the future, saying that something will never happen or someone will never accomplish something can make you sound like a bit of a
know-it-all. Worse, when what you said would never happen comes true, you come off as untrustworthy.

Use these alternatives to “never” in your everyday conversations.

  • “It’s hard to imagine that you’ll…” instead of  “You’ll never…”
  • “I don’t think I could bring myself to…” instead of  “I’ll never…”
  • “I haven’t ever noticed…” instead of  “That never happens…”




Saying something always happens or someone always does something can lead to
feelings of resentment in people and are relationship killers. If you say Karen is always late, and she remembers multiple occasions when she was on time, she may feel resentful that you don’t recognize when she is on time.

Use these alternatives to “always” in your daily interactions.

  • “She usually says that…” instead of  “She always says that…”
  • “People who do that often end up…” instead of  “People who do that always end up…”
  • “I’ll try to be here for you when I can,” instead of  “I’ll always be here for you.”

“Always” and “Never” are known as universal quantifiers in NLP.  As soon as someone uses them in relation to a complaint, we know they are stretching the truth. Because of this, it immediately causes resentment and sets up a conflict situation. Instead, just be real and don’t put the other person on the defensive…especially if you want to be heard.




“Can’t” can make people uncomfortable sharing business ideas or future plans with you. “Can’t” can also push some people to try everything in their power to prove you wrong, so you become their enemy instead of their trusted partner. Which effect the regular use of ‘can’t’ will have on someone depends on their personality. Regardless, neither of these responses helps build a healthy relationship with them because you’ll be seen as someone who doesn’t believe in them or doesn’t respect their autonomy.

Try these alternatives instead:

  • “It might be easier if you had some help,” instead of “You can’t do it alone.”
  • “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak to me that way.” instead of “You can’t talk to me like that.”
  • “Time to make a new plan to get this done.” instead of “I can’t do this.”




Should is one of the most judgmental words you can use. Telling people what they should or shouldn’t do, say, or think makes you the judge and ruler of their thoughts and decisions.

Try these alternatives to “should”:

  • “I’ve had trouble with that in the past,” instead of “You shouldn’t do that.”
  • “I wish she had called first,” instead of “She should have called.”
  • “I hope you can find solace in the fact that…” instead of “You should be happy that…”

When a relationship doesn’t seem as close and healthy as you’d like it to be – including your own view of yourself – have a look at the language you use to talk about yourself and other people. Remember these four words that will kill a relationship and try to catch yourself before using them. Often, a simple change in vocabulary can make all the difference between healthy, fruitful, comfortable relationships and unpleasant relationships.

The words above are actually part of a thing called the NLP Meta Model and are examples of universal quantifiers and modal operators. Find out more about the NLP Meta Model and how it influences our language, and our decisions.

Would you like to know more?

Our blog page has many more articles for you to read.

Alternatively, head over to our NLP glossary where you can find a list of NLP terms with lots of links to articles.

If you'd like to find out more about our courses where you can learn more head over to our courses page

Thanks for reading!


ABNLP Trainer
Founder: Insights NLP
Phone +62 (0) 812 3895 2053


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