No problem.” “No worries.” We hear these responses from sales clerks, food servers, and others after we thank them for doing their job. Also from friends, family members, and acquaintances.

What’s wrong with this?

The unconscious does not recognize a negative

What’s wrong is that the unconscious does not recognize a negative. To prove this point, try this experiment: Imagine yourself being told right now, “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” Immediately, what do you think of? A pink elephant, course! The unconscious does not recognize a negative, which in this case is the word, “don’t.” You hear, “Think of a pink elephant.”

When someone I thank responds, “no problem” or “no worries,” the words, “problem” and “worries” jump out at me. I sense I’ve been viewed as mildly annoying, at best. Yet, if my “thank you” elicits a “You’re welcome,” or “My pleasure,” I’m likely to feel good about our exchange.

So why is a marriage maven writing about pink elephants and seemingly innocent phrases?

These currently popular phrases, “no problem,” and “no worries,” are heard subconsciously as negative messages. When spouses unknowingly communicate with each other less than positively, they create distance in their relationship.

Clean communication uses words that bring forth positive associations, even when the speaker is referring to something about which he or she is unhappy.

How to Communicate Positively

In the best marriages, partners communicate positively. Not everyone knows how to do this well, even when they think they are getting it right. A wife might intend to express gratitude by telling her husband, “I appreciate you for not bothering me when I wanted to read quietly last night. A more positive message would be, “I appreciate you for respecting my wish to read quietly last night.”

Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love explains step by step how to use several positive communication skills and avoid using negative ones, such as disguised You-statements. 

Follow a Complaint with a Request

Being human, we’re all likely to complain now and then, to say what we don’t want or don’t like. A husband might tell his wife, “I didn’t like it when you told our friends about my brother’s medical condition. I wasn’t ready to share this.” He can soften his rebuke by adding a request, such as, “I would appreciate it if from now on you’ll keep this private, until I’m ready to share it with others.” His wife hears “appreciate” and will probably respond warmly by saying she will certainly honor his wish.

When he then thanks her, she’ll say, “You’re welcome!”


Cleaning up Your Communication

Less Helpful: Complaining               Better: Asking Kindly for What You Want

“You don’t help me enough with the kids.”

“I’d appreciate it very much if you would be willing to watch the kids Tuesday evenings so I can go to a class I’m interested in.”

“You don’t show me enough affection.”

“How about a hug?” (said warmly with a smile.” Or surprise him or her with a hug. Or, “I’d like a good morning hug and kiss today.”

“You don’t help enough in the kitchen.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d clear the dishes from the table.”

“I don’t like having to do all the housecleaning.” (This is okay if you follow up with a request.)

“I’d like to get more help cleaning the house. Might you be willing to take on a task or two?” (Give examples).”If not, how about we hire a cleaning service?”


Note: This article is modified from an earlier version originally published on .


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Comment by Crystal Presence on March 2, 2017 at 8:20pm

Great article...right on...thanks for that!

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