I was reading about certain words that should never be used in advertising because they yield poor results. The article pointed out that people are far less likely to click on the word “submit” on a web site because it is too committal. As an alternative, “click here” is better, and “click here to receive whatever is being offered” is better yet. The article went on to point out how language can be a turn on or a turn off when making decisions.
As I read, I started to consider some of the keywords that don’t fly too well in the realm of relationships. I couldn’t help but ponder words like “obey,” for instance; a word that was once the norm in traditional wedding vows (and may still be in certain circles). Using “obey” in the realm of relationships is a deal breaker for many of us, including several terms that mean something similar. (Ironically, when I looked up synonyms of “obey”, “submit” came up!) Even reference to the “head of the household” can be an indicator of a power hierarchy. If this is okay with you, no problem, but if not, paying attention to this kind of terminology may assist you in avoiding some major struggles.
In my work as an online dating advisor, I would guide people to watch for the themes they, or the people they were interested in, posted in their profiles. I encouraged them to watch for the underlying messages that they were sharing through, often unconscious, choices. Repetitious sexual content, mention of alcohol and drugs, complaints about previous partners, a clear portrayal of low self-esteem, or elevated ego are all little red flags to watch for in an online write-up. Even in our face-to-face relationships, we all drop indicators of our beliefs and attitudes everywhere we go through our language and choice of words.
Some words aren’t the issue themselves, but rather the problem arises with the timing of their use. For instance, “love” —a word we clearly associate with relationships— can serve as a bomb if dropped too soon or a detriment if not used soon enough. “Commitment,” “monogamy,” and “marriage,” can freak people out when thrown around too early in the dating process, as well. And equally, at some point in the relationship, a lack of willingness to use these terms may be a deal breaker.
What we call each other at different stages of the relationship may also be an indicator calling for attention. Referring to your date as your “boyfriend,” or “girlfriend” can cause just as many problems as referring to your boyfriend or girlfriend as your “date” or your “lover.” Your level of commitment, or lack thereof, is revealed in your choice of labels, as is how you define the relationship.
How we refer to sex may also be a trigger. For some calling it “making love” (instead of sex) may be an issue, while for others it may be exactly the other way around.
How we talk about previous partners and past relationships can also reveal hot button issues. I have a friend who is adamant that people should refer to their previous husband or wife as “former spouse” rather than their “ex”, as he feels it is far more honoring of the major role they have previously played. While you may prefer not to honor those that have come before you, the truth of the matter is that in time you may be the next on the “ex” list wishing for more honor.
For me, a hot button is to refer to breaking up as “dumped,” as in “I dumped him or her.” We dump trash, not people. Using this term for breaking up can be an indicator that the respect levels of people and relationships may be sorely lacking.
People will often reveal early in the relationship where the big issues will lay ahead simply in their words. The problem is that we don’t often listen, or pay attention until the situation gets out of control. While everyone’s hot button issues may be slightly different, we would all benefit by paying a little closer attention to what is said, what is meant, and what is being revealed.
Rather than just considering what your hot button issues are when someone else utters them, be sure to practice awareness of the words you use as well—the words or the timing of your words, that may be pushing others away. Your own clarity and impeccability with the alignment of your words and your intended meaning will set the tone of deeper discussions, and greater understanding.
What are your hot button words or terms in the realm of relationships?