Ask couples about the essential ingredients of a healthy marriage or relationship and “communication” usually tops their list. In fact, most couples who come to me for counseling say they want to communicate more effectively. Many have identified that their relationship distress is either directly or indirectly linked to communication missteps. Often, this self-assessment is spot-on.
There are a wide range of communication habits that fuel relationship problems—habits that become roadblocks to emotional and physical intimacy. Understanding the roadblocks that may already exist (or that may someday creep into your relationship) is a vital tool for relationship maintenance. And an awareness of the workings of a particular unhealthy habit is the first step in breaking it.
Relationship Help: Overcome These 3 Unhealthy Communication Habits
#1: Ongoing Negation
When you negate another person, in essence you are denying the validity or importance of his/her message, or worse, you are sending the message that their reality is faulty. Too frequently, when couples have differing viewpoints, rather than accepting these divergent realities, one partner may negate the other’s experience in an effort to justify their own position. One common way couples negate one another is with “Yeah, but…” statements. Usually the “Yeah” is just lip-service, and the message that follows the “but” is an attempt to unravel the other’s perspective.
Communication Solution: Replacing “Yeah, but…” statements with “Yeah, and…” statements is one way to break this ineffective (and often destructive) communication habit.
#2: Chronic Defensiveness
The truth is, we all get defensive from time to time. Our feelings get hurt and our psychological wall goes up so we don’t have to endure further distress. Defensiveness is a self-protective measure that allows you to temporarily break the connection with your partner in an effort to retreat into the safety of emotional solitude. While occasional defensiveness can have an important function in relationships, the danger of regular periods of defensiveness is that after awhile your defensive (and closed-off) reaction takes on a life of its own and becomes your default position.
Communication Solution: Effective communication requires taking risks and sharing your needs so that your partner has the opportunity to meet them. This requires a certain degree of ongoing emotional openness (the antithesis of closed-off defensiveness).
How might fear hold you back? When you share your needs and desires with someone else, you become vulnerable. You are in essence saying, “This is what I need, this is what’s important to me and I’m handing over control to you to fulfill this need.” Rather than share the deepest parts of yourself (and risk rejection), deep-seated fears may hold you back from sharing what you need and want.
Communication Solution: When fear is holding you back from communicating your needs, it’s important to discern whether your fears are the lasting result of your family of origin patterns or if these fears are the result of not feeling safe with your partner. Either way, these issues should be part of the communication landscape of the relationship.
Increasing your mindfulness of these unhealthy communication habits is an important step in making healthy communication a regular part of your marriage or relationship. Remember, it’s in the process of communicating and emotional sharing that our separateness gives way to connectedness—in this regard, effective communication is a bridge to a more meaningful and fulfilling relationship.
Communication and Relationship Resource
Wishing you a fulfilling relationship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro