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Common Phrases Better Left Unsaid: Julie Hanks On Studio 5

Sometimes we say things to friends we don’t mean. Common phrases that come out during a conversation often come across wrong. Therapist Julie Hanks, shares a catch phrases to watch out for.

Close female friends are some of life’s greatest treasures. It’s comforting to know that you can count on another woman to understand what you’re going through, or to just vent and say whatever is on your mind. Just the other day someone pointed out that my friend and colleague Clair and I were finishing each other’s sentences during a work meeting. We didn’t even realize it because we were “in sync” and finishing each other’s sentences accurately.

Though we know our girlfriends so well, it can be helpful, at times, to take a step back and look at commonly used phrases and some of the hidden messages that might be hurting those we love.



1) You are so lucky!

When your friend enjoys a success in life, say finds an amazing man to marry, gets a promotion, or gets the top score on a college exam, do the words, “You’re so lucky!” come out of your mouth? This phrase might imply that women didn’t work for their success or accomplishment.

For example, a dear friend of mine works part-time a few evenings a week when her husband is home and makes really good money. It might be easy to say, “She’s so lucky,” because she has a good paying, flexible job. She didn’t feel so lucky during medical school and pediatric residency.

Try this phrase instead: “Congratulations! You’ve worked really hard.”

2) I know how you feel

When trying to empathize with a friend’s painful life event it’s easy to say, “I know just how you feel.” But do you really know? This phrase may feel minimizing of a friend’s unique experience and feelings.

I remember working with a client who was devastated by her mother’s passing. I remember her saying how she hated when people who’d also lost a parent would say, “I know how you feel. I lost my mom, too.” Her relationship with her mom wasn’t a typical nurturing relationship. It was fraught with conflict, and she had been the emotional caretaker of her mother.

Try this phrase instead: “Tell me more about what you’re feeling…”

3) Didn’t you realize…?

When your friend shares a decision that didn’t work out so well have you ever said “Didn’t you realize…?” Remember that hindsight is 20/20. You are stating the obvious with the benefit of hindsight and subtly saying maybe she’s not that bright.

Let’s say, for example, that your friend Leslie shared some of her marital struggles with another mutual friend Jen who didn’t keep her confidence and Leslie is telling you that she’s really upset about it. You say to Leslie, “Didn’t you realize that she’d blab your problems to the neighborhood?” In that phrase you’re implying that your friend  should have known better and isn’t very smart.

Try this phrase instead: “Oh, that’s tough!”

4) Don’t you think…?

When you start out a question by saying “Don’t you think…?” it’s usually a statement in disguise. It’s a way of saying what you think and feel without really saying it. This phrase implies that you’ve already made up your mind and that there is a right answer.

Say your friend is telling you that she’s taken away car privileges for a month from her 16 year old because he was 10 minutes late for curfew. And you say, “Don’t you think that’s a little extreme?” Obviously, your friend doesn’t think it’s extreme or she wouldn’t have done it. What you really mean is, “I think that consequence is a bit extreme for being a few minutes late.”

Try this phrase instead: “I think….”

5) If I were you I would…

This phrase assumes that you know what it’s like to be in your friend’s situation and that you know best what she should do.

I’ve worked with a woman in the process of a very complicated divorce whose well-meaning friends were constantly giving advice on the divorce process. Often the advice reflects their friend’s emotions and not what’s best for my client. “If I were you I’d never let him see those kids again until he pays you your share” or “If I were you I’d expose all of his indiscretions to the whole world.”

Try this phrase instead: “Have you thought about…?”

6) It’s not a big deal

While the phrase, “It’s not a big deal” is an honest attempt at comforting and cheering up your friend, it may also seem like she doesn’t have a right to her intense emotions.

I once worked with a woman who was in a leadership position at her church and felt hurt by the comments of others who compared her to the previous leader. When she shared her hurt with her closest friend, her friend responded, “Why are you making such a big deal about it?” My client told me that she felt misunderstood and that her friend minimized her emotions.

Try this phrase instead: “Help me understand why that was so upsetting to you.”

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