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The Badmouthing Habit That Could Ruin Your Relationship

"Men are jerks!" Sound familiar? Beware! Vocally bashing guys, even if you're just kidding, could be potentially bad for you and your boyfriend. Here's why.

Here at Cosmo, it's no secret that we love men...and we know you do, too. But despite that fact, lately, more and more women seem to have developed a nasty little habit of taking potshots at men—albeit ones that are often disguised as "harmless" jokes.

"In the past few years, it has become widely acceptable in our culture for women to express publicly their dissatisfaction with men," explains Lionel Tiger, PhD, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and author of The Decline of Males.

Not buying it? Consider this: From sitcoms about oafish husbands to hit songs about cheating boyfriends, men are frequently portrayed as stupid, sex-crazed, or victimizers, says Katherine K. Young, PhD, co-author of Legalizing Misandry. The danger is, negative images that start out in the media have a funny way of working themselves into everyday life, and they can erode your relationship with your man...or a potential suitor.

How We Beat On Boys

Taking jabs at men is so habitual, many chicks don't even notice when they're doing it because it seeps out in insidious ways. For instance, in the early dating stages, you may think you're complimenting a man by gushing that he's sooo not like the jerks and losers you've dated in the past, but you're actually broadcasting that, for the most part, you think dudes suck.

"When you try to make a guy feel special by insulting other men, he's wondering how long it will be before you start making those disparaging assumptions about him," explains licensed marriage and family therapist Seana McGee, co-author of The New Couple. Instead of being excited about getting to know you better, he may wind up feeling defensive before the second date.

Negative generalizations about men have become so entrenched in female culture that it's often hard to shake them, even after you're part of a happy twosome. Take the common belief that men are incapable of simple household tasks: "When it comes to chores, women often treat their partners like they can't do anything right," explains relationship therapist Joy Davidson, PhD, author of Fearless Sex.

Another way women diss men is by assuming they're all horn dogs. "A female will often roll her eyes or give an exasperated sigh when a guy makes any sort of sexual comment," explains Davidson, which gives the insulting impression that we think men are controlled entirely by their penises.

So where does this all start? The seeds of guy slamming are often planted when women get together with friends. It's natural for them to talk about relationship problems, but a girl-group confessional can turn so easily into a men-are-dogs bitchfest.

These get-togethers may seem fun and cathartic at the time, but there is a downside. "These kinds of conversations embed a negative attitude in your head," explains Davidson. "Then, the next time you see your guy, you may treat him differently [read: badly] because those negative thoughts have been brewing." And since he wasn't privy to the girl talk that got you all riled up to begin with, he's confused as hell about what he's done wrong.

Why It Weakens Love

When you're single, saying things like "There are no good ones left out there" and "I'd have a boyfriend if men weren't such idiots" might make you feel better about being solo. But the more you utter those kinds of phrases, the more you start to believe them, which can keep you from connecting with a potentially awesome guy.

Once you are in a relationship, that anti-boy attitude can damage your bond. Implying that his "typical male" brain is always X-rated is basically telling him you think he's less evolved than you are—ouch! And if you assume he sucks at housework, you may take on extra chores simply because he "can't," then grow resentful. "Either way, you'll wind up taking that frustration out on him without his ever knowing why," says Davidson.

Likewise, talking down to a guy ("Say it out loud so I know you were listening: What time are you picking me up for dinner again?") also can derail his sense of masculinity. Since guys have a hardwired desire to feel needed, treating a guy like a child who relies on you is hugely offensive. "If you speak to him respectfully, even if you're angry, he'll know how to deal, but any time you sound like his babysitter or mother, he'll retreat and shut down," explains McGee.

Break Your Bashing Habit

To get some perspective, start by reminding yourself of some of the great things the male gender has to offer. Make a mental list of all the important guys in your life, past and present, and come up with at least five amazing qualities for each (hilarious, super dedicated, handy at building things, etc.). This exercise will help you realize that not all guys fit into stereotypes and even the "bad" ones have a variety of redeeming features.

"By focusing on the good qualities you see in men, you'll realize how unfair generalizations are," says McGee. Plus, you'll naturally start to see the best in the boys around you.

A shift you can make within a relationship is to ban the mothering-type behavior that makes him squirm. Another goal: Avoid lines like "Ugh, why do all men tell crude jokes/wear mismatched socks/slack on cleaning the house?" When a dude hears them, he assumes he's being punished for the behavior of guys before him, which isn't fair. If he does something that pisses you off, address him as an individual by asking him why he, personally, did whatever it was that bugged you, then explain why it upset you.

"Saying you hate that all guys do something doesn't provide him with any feedback, so he won't stop," says Davidson. "Personalizing it forces him to take responsibility for how his specific behavior affects you."

If your pals tend to initiate guy trashing, try changing the subject. For example, if a girlfriend says that guys never commit, get her to see how silly it is to make such broad statements by jokingly making one about women, like "I know, and women start shopping for a wedding dress after the third date." Soon enough, your friends will see that complaining about guys isn't something you get off on.

Start Man Boasting

Once you've learned to curb your man-bashing behavior, go the extra mile and actually boost your guy's confidence. When he makes the effort to do something for you, even if he didn't do it perfectly, focus on what he did right. For example, thank him for loading the dishwasher—without commenting on the fact that he didn't rinse the plates first. Fear not: Buttering him up this way doesn't let him get away with doing a half-assed job on things; it actually encourages him to take on more because he's getting praised, not punished.

And the next time you're gabbing with a friend, seize the opportunity to bring up something great your man said or did. As your pals chime in with tales from their own love lives—positive ones, for a change—you'll find yourself getting giddy at the thought of him, not getting grumpy like you did when you were man bashing.

"When you do eventually meet up with your boyfriend, you'll be more excited to see him because you've been dwelling on how wonderful he is," says Davidson. Those blissful feelings will improve the way you treat your guy...and that love buzz is contagious.

Check Yourself

Some male-bashing phrases are so common, we forget they can sting. Ditch lines like:

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