For a long time, I thought that my communication techniques were flawless when it came to my relationships. By talking and sharing my feelings whenever they popped into the head, I thought I had mastered the art of connecting with my partner.
Decades later, I have learned (albeit the hard way) that there are numerous ways that couples choose to communicate in their relationships… and the majority of this communication isn’t necessarily healthy.
It has been a long uphill journey, but over the last few years, I have learned what works and what doesn’t work in regard to communicating with my partner.
Here are five examples of communication that could be extremely damaging to your relationship.
#1. Stonewalling/giving them the silent treatment
Recently I was speaking with a friend who told me that she got into a horrible fight with her husband.
The argument started out small but things quickly escalated to the point where he was shutting down emotionally and she began raising her voice to try to elicit a reaction. For several days after the fight, her husband went to stay with a friend and refused to talk about what had happened.
His reaction to her raising her voice wasn’t necessarily uncommon. When someone feels cornered or trapped they can shut down completely and start stonewalling primarily because they feel hurt and frustrated.
Although it can be easy to resort to these behaviors in your relationship, it is actually one of the top indicators for divorce in couples and needs to be addressed immediately, ideally with the help of a therapist.
#2. Bringing up past mistakes and keeping score
There is a couple that my partner and I see every now and again because they are part of our friend group.
Every time that they are with us, there are constant little jabs and arguments between them about things that have happened in the past. Although many of the jabs are done under the guise of “joking” it is obvious that resentment and anger are building between them
The reality is that it can be extremely tempting to keep score. When our partner makes a mistake it can become a “gotcha” moment that we store in our head and revisit the past when we want to use it against them.
No relationship is going to be perfectly even and keeping a tally on who is “winning” between you and your partner is bound to end badly.
#3. Invalidating their feelings
You may not necessarily understand why your partner is feeling a certain way, but not having empathy for them in those moments can be detrimental to a relationship.
“To invalidate someone’s feelings is to dismiss, belittle, or otherwise cast doubt or judgment on their emotional experience. When we unknowingly invalidate our partners, we express our feeling that their perception about their own experiences might not be accurate or faithful.” -Regain
Years ago I was with someone who constantly told me that I was overreacting or being silly when I shared my feelings with him.
By the end of our relationship, not only was I hesitant to share even my smallest feelings with him, but I doubted whether or not they were even valid.
#4. Becoming defensive instead of listening to your partner
I absolutely hate admitting when I am wrong and my defensiveness is something I have had to work on in my relationship since day one.
When we first started dating I would immediately shut down if my partner tried to give me any kind of feedback.
At one point my boyfriend actually had to sit me down to explain (gently) that he was struggling to communicate with me due to how defensive I would get if he brought up anything that forced me to be vulnerable.
His words hit home and I realized that I needed to fight through the defensiveness to truly hear him and be willing to grow in our relationship.
#5. Resorting to yelling when things get heated
Years ago I knew a couple who had the wildest fights I have ever witnessed, let’s call them Tom and Andrea.
There was one night when Andrea was yelling at Tom in the car so much that he resorted to jumping out of the moving vehicle while she was driving. He was banged up and bruised but thankfully not terribly injured.
Another night, Tom smashed their expensive dresser due to his frustration and it was broken beyond repair to the point where they ended up just hauling the broken wood pieces out to the dumpster. They’re married now but although it’s been years since I’ve talked to them or seen them, I cannot help but assume that they still have blowout fights.
Arguments and friction in a relationship are normal and actually healthy. That being said, I truly believe that how a couple chooses to navigate their fights says volumes about their relationship, If you are constantly yelling or driving each other off the edge, you are not fighting in a healthy or constructive way.
Communication is never going to be perfect
Yesterday I woke up and was feeling a bit emotional. My partner was already working when I woke up so I didn’t see him until later on in the day when he came into the kitchen to make lunch.
He seemed preoccupied with his thoughts and didn’t say anything to me.
Normally I would have just talked to him and not thought twice about it, but for some reason, I blew a gasket. Bursting into tears I walked into his office after he went back in, and said he was ignoring me completely. Taken aback my partner pulled me into a hug, telling me that he had just been preoccupied with work and didn’t mean to ignore me. Then he started laughing and just said, “you can’t expect for me to be able to read your mind baby.”
His words were a reminder that even though I write and talk about relationships all the time, I am very far from perfect.
When it comes to communication I believe that, along with everyone else, I will always need a little more practice.