Saying "thank you" is gracious. These are two words we all like to hear. How do you respond to someone who thanks you? This common replay makes me cringe: "No Problem!"

"No problem." "No worries." We hear these words 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 innocuous

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."

The first of the above two sentences contains a metaphorical pink elephant. The husband is going to hear, loud and clear, the word "bothering." The message left swimming in his subconscious could well be: "I'm a bother; she finds me annoying." His wife's attempt to compliment him backfired because it contained a subliminal negative component. In fact, her message may actually result in him bothering her more often because we are more likely repeat behaviors for which we are given attention, even negative attention.

The second sentence, "I appreciate you for respecting my wish to read quietly last night" is totally positive. The listening husband (not an oxymoron!) hears, "I'm respectful and considerate. She likes this about me." This kind of positive attention will probably result in other more considerate behaviors on his part, and consequently more connection and harmony in the couple's relationship.

Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love explains step by step how to use several positive communication skills for respectful, constructive conversations.

Turn a Complaint into a Request

Positive communicators have learned how to turn a complaint into a request. Instead of saying what they do not want their partner to do, they say what they want. A wife who resents having to plan all their dates might feel tempted to blurt out to her husband, "Why do I always have to be the one who has to come up with ideas for our dates?" Feeling criticized, the husband might react by begrudgingly planning a lackluster date.

What if the wife would say instead, "I'd love it if you would plan some of our dates?" The husband would hear the word, "love" and probably want to please her by honoring her request in a heartfelt way.

To review, a clearly positive message, such as "You're welcome," is preferable to phrases that may create distance, such as "no problem" and "no worries," because the unconscious doesn't recognize a negative. Similarly, by changing a complaint into a request, we give a message that the listener is more likely to hear as constructive; a communication that fosters connection.

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--"You don't help me enough with the kids."
Better: Asking kindly for for what you want--I'd appreciate it very much if you would watch the kids Tuesday evenings so I can go to a class."

Less Helpful: Complaining--You don't show me enough affection."
Better:"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."

Less Helpful: Complaining--"You don't help enough in the kitchen." "I'd appreciate it if you'd clear the dishes from the table."
Better:"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 of tasks you'd like the person to handle)."If not, how about we hire a cleaning service?"

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

Author's Bio: 

Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted (New World Library), is a psychotherapist in San Rafael, California. She helps people create relationships that are fulfilling in all the important ways-emotionally and spiritually as well as physically and materially, whether they are already married or want to be.