“If you don’t have anything nice to say…” is a Toxic Thought

You know how this phrase ends “…don’t say anything at all”.

This is a phrase I was taught as a child. In fact, I probably even taught it to my children. But now, I think it is borderline harmful.

The intention behind the phrase is good. It’s trying to say “don’t be mean”. True. You shouldn’t be mean.

But that isn’t enough. We should be a force for good.

This phrase basically tells us it is okay to have these negative thoughts, as long as we don’t say them out loud. It suggests we shouldn’t give difficult feedback unless the recipient will be pleased to hear it.

This phrase allows us to take the easy path. This phrase is holding us back from being better.

Here are two alternative endings I would suggest.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep working on it.

Don’t take the easy path. Don’t sit there allowing a negative thought to float around in your head. Instead find something positive to say, change your internal dialogue.

It’s true that negative thoughts might pop into our minds. In a moment of weakness we might want to say something unkind to someone. But we have the opportunity to stop ourselves, and change our thoughts. We have the opportunity to replace that negative, mean, or harsh thought, with something positive, uplifting, and generous.

Do the work required. Be kind.

The second way to finish the phrase is:

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If you don’t have anything nice to say, it still might need to be said.

Sometimes, even though what we have to say isn’t nice, it still might be kind. We might have an important piece of feedback that the person needs to hear. Our feedback might be what is needed to help that person improve, grow, or gain valuable insight.

So check your intentions. Is what you are about to say meant to hurt them, or do you really, honestly feel like what you are about to say will be helpful to them. Sometimes the truth is hard, but if done in the right way, with the right intentions, it may be the right thing to say.

Let me repeat that. If done in the right way, with the right intentions. Don’t use this to justify saying mean and hurtful things. The vast majority of the time you should be able to find positive, uplifting, and generous things to say.

Next time you are about to say something that isn’t nice, stop yourself. Do you need to work a little harder to find something positive to say? Do you need to figure out how to give some tough feedback in a loving way? Take the extra step, don’t be silent, be kind.

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The purpose of “The Couple Project” is to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We share what we are learning, which ideas we are trying, and which ideas helped improve our relationship. We realize not everything that works for us will work for you, but we still hope you will find our journey valuable.

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