A healthy relationship is good for your happiness, physical health, and life fulfillment. But an unhappy union can feel emotionally disastrous and have a negative impact on every aspect of your life.
If your relationship is filled with arguments, tense silence, and the feeling you are living with an enemy, the issue may be simpler to resolve than you think. Perhaps you and your partner are using unhealthy communication that over time, have begun to erode the quality of your relationship.
In the United States, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Researchers have found certain patterns of communication and conflict resolution styles can predict divorce. If you are having difficulties in your relationship, your communication strategy may be part of the problem. Below are the four most damaging communication strategies; criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Read more to understand what they are and how to avoid them.
When two people live together they will inevitably need to deal with opposing ideas or ideas about living. When this happens we need to communicate to our partner what our concerns are and what we hope can be done about them. But how we express ourselves is important, to express our views, we can criticize, or offer a complaint that needs resolution.
Criticizing your partner is different than offering advice or expressing your feelings when you are unhappy about something. Criticism is an attack on your partner. It seeks to injure the core of the person.
How you can tell the difference is whether you are addressing the whole person in your complaint or a specific behavior they are doing that upsets you.
A complaint can look like this:
“Yesterday, after dinner you left your dishes on the counter for me to clean. I cooked and then had to clean up by myself. I don’t feel this is fair, in the future, I need more help with cleanup in the evenings.”
A criticism looks like this:
“You never help clean anything. You’re lazy and you don’t think of anyone but yourself.”
These two statements address the same problem but have a very different effect on how your partner will feel. One is easily fixable (please help with cleanup after dinner). The second is an attack on who the person is (lazy and selfish).
Contempt is very toxic to relationships. Contempt is despising and carries a total lack of respect. contempt occurs when we mock, ridicule, call someone names, or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing.
Contempt is worse than criticism as the intent behind it is to make the other person feel worthless.
top and assess your feeling if you feel contempt or if you communicate in a style that is harsh and unforgiving towards your partner. Often, if the relationship deteriorates to this level, seeking relationship counseling may help.
Defensiveness is usually a response to criticism. It occurs when we feel unjustly attacked. When we (or our partner) feels defensive, usually, the response is to make excuses and then place the blame on somebody else.
For example, a defensive response to the above criticism, (you never help clean and you are lazy and selfish) could sound something like this.
“I’m so busy all day long and you know I don’t have time to clean. You have more time than me, why don’t you just do it?”
The above response may feel justified but it will not help the situation. It doesn’t acknowledge how the other is feeling and it doesn’t seek to find a solution to the problem. Defensiveness often only escalates the problem or causes one partner to feel unheard and uncared for.
A better response could be “You’re right, I left my dishes on the counter and didn’t help out with anything. I’ve been so busy and stressed from work. I’ll try to do better next time ”
Many couples have conflict around household chores. Today, very few couples hold traditional roles where one works outside the home and the other takes care of the house and the children. A woman working fulltime outside the home has (in some marriages) resulted in “double burden” for the woman. In this case, she has a full-time paid job outside the home and another full-time job raising children and caring for the house. In a traditional marriage, the husband usually feels he should get to relax after work and leave the cooking and cleaning to his wife. In this case, a resolution needs to be found between the couple that results in feelings of justice and fairness for both.
Stonewalling is a type of withdrawal. This occurs when the listener simply stops responding and withdraws from the conversation. Rather than discussing and confronting issues, the person retreats. this is often a response to contempt.
What you can do if your communication style is toxic
Toxic communication damages a relationship and if left unchecked, it can lead to separation or divorce. Being able to identify your toxic patterns is the first step to improving your situation. Next, you must take steps to improve the way you handle conflict and how you treat each other. It is important to cultivate an atmosphere of appreciation in your relationship. Make sure to tell yourself and your partner how much you love them and the life you have created together.
There are communication techniques and conflict resolution strategies that can improve your relationship. If you are struggling and want help, reaching out to a therapist can help.
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