1. Make them feel bad about a normal body function.
If that girl lets out an unexpected little toot in your bed when you two are just moments post-lovemaking, loud enough for all to hear and clear enough to render a denial impossible, you lighten that god damn mood like the hero you are. You laugh, you tell her it was cute, you use every weapon in your “It’s okay, I still find you beautiful and wonderful” arsenal because that girl is currently dying a thousand tiny, papercut deaths inside at the prospect that this person she is really into has just been made stinkily aware of the fact that she is a real human being. Don’t be the person who makes her feel even more awkward or uncomfortable or ashamed over something that happens to everyone. Everyone poops and burps and farts and bleeds and gets all sick and snotty from time to time, even the magical unicorn pixie dream girl who you would one day hope to marry. Don’t make her afraid to be human.
2. Comment on their appearance during an unrelated argument.
You want to know the kind of emotional wound that your partner is going to spend the better part of the next decade masochistically opening and liberally sprinkling with lemon juice? The kind where you tell them that they have gained a lot of weight since you’ve started dating when you’re arguing about this month’s budget. That wound will provide years of self-hating fodder if you leave it even once, so it’s better to just stick to the topic at hand.
3. “Break up” when you know you aren’t actually going to split.
This is an emotional arms race of squirt guns filled with room-temperature pee, and everyone’s just going to end up all gross and soggy and sad. We all know that couple who is constantly “breaking up,” making dramatic exits and carrying on these absurd public fights on a bi-weekly basis because, one can only imagine, they get some kind of thrill from being terrible to one another and making everyone else around them uncomfortable. However, we usually know them when we’re all 17 years old. Don’t be that couple at the ripe old age of Anything Older Than Legal Drinking Age.
4. Insult their relationship with their family.
After the flurry of insensitive, anthropomorphic brillo pads using yesterday’s holiday as a timely reason to start making fun of their peers who are dealing with “daddy issues,” let’s talk about why it’s not okay to make fun of someone’s relationship with their family.
A) No one wants to be in a position where they can’t turn to their family when they need to, or don’t feel supported, or have to actively live down a childhood of trauma.
B) It is unfair to judge someone for relationships established when the party in question was a child.
C) We already demonize people who grow up without stable parental figures enough in society, a relationship should at least attempt to be a safe zone from that judgment.
Even if, in your heart of hearts, you feel like you can make a connection between your boyfriend’s slightly oedipal relationship with his Paula Deen-esque mother and his neediness, or your girlfriend’s absentee father and her deep fear of emotional intimacy, throwing it in their faces is just the lowest of the low. There are ways to talk about the kinds of relationships we were given as examples growing up, and a huge part of that starts with realizing how lucky we are to have good foundations, if we do.
5. Tell them that you could do better than them.
Is there anything more painful than watching that scene in Sex and the City where Charlotte freaks out on Harry and says to him, “Do you know what people think when they see us?” (Because, for the uninitiated, Charlotte is what we might refer to as a stone-cold Bettie and Harry is a short lil tubby love bug with a bald head and a penchant for placing his naked ass on things.) He is devastated, of course, and everyone at home got to cry and throw a stray shoe at Charlotte for having been so callous with Harry’s perfect lil emotions.
In all seriousness, though, the feeling that your partner knows they could do better than you — or thinks that they are doing a favor by being with you — is pretty much unparalleled in terms of pure badness. It confirms every lingering fear that you might have about respective attractiveness/attraction, the assumptions other people must make, and the respect with which your partner views you. Even said in the heat of an argument, it’s just about one of the cruelest things we can muster.
6. Compare them negatively to an ex.
They hate your ex enough already. They have already constructed entire alternate universes made out of emotional papier-mâché in which you were much more in love with them and attracted to them and everything was so much more perfect than could ever be achieved in your current relationship. You confirm that gnawing fear even once, and you’ll get to watch it eat them up from inside like some kind of virus that drives its host to constantly hate-check your ex’s Facebook in the middle of the night while comfort-eating a pint of Haagen Dazs. If you find that scene one night after a bitter comment about how your ex never complained so much on road trips, that ugly is all on you.