When you’re tense, angry, or upset, it can be extremely difficult to communicate in healthy and effective ways. In spite of your best intentions, you may find yourself in vicious arguments with your partner or even refusing to talk at all. Thankfully, becoming more aware of these strategies can help you to develop new ways of dealing with conflict. Here are six of the most common forms of unhealthy methods of communication, alongside some suggestions that will help you adjust the way you relate to your significant other.
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1. Failing to listen
Do you find yourself spending most of your time thinking about the next point you want to make, or have you noticed that you often interrupt your partner halfway through a sentence? Cultivating better listening skills could help solve disputes and encourage relationship growth. Often, if you really listen to another person then a potential argument is diffused in the early stages. Many fights begin with a crucial misunderstanding, so it is vital to hear your partner’s words and ask for any ambiguities to be cleared up. In addition, truly listening will help the other person feel respected and cared for in spite of your disagreement.
You will often hear people claim that their partners ‘made’ them furious, or even ‘drove them’ to negative actions like screaming insults or indulging in excessive drinking. Healthy communication involves expressing feelings of pain or anger without implying that your partner should take sole responsibility. To work on owning your feelings, give more thoughts to your unique history. Often, you will find that strong negative reactions are tied to your worst fears about yourself or to memories of old wounds received in past relationships.
For example, a failure to call can seem like a huge slight if you were once with someone who was never able to commit. Being mindful of what triggers your defensives will help you avoid blaming your partner for everything that goes wrong.
3. Always going on the offensive
Although it can be tempting to let your frustration out in a cutting remark, developing a diplomatic approach can be a real asset in a romantic relationship. Imagine, say, that you are annoyed or upset because you feel like you are being forced to take on too many parenting responsibilities. You could say something like
“I’m the only real parent here—when are you going to grow up and do your fair share of the work?” However, you are likely to solve your problem much more effectively if you try a comment like “I sometimes feel really stressed by how much time I spend caring for the children. Can we talk about our parenting strategy and see if we can figure out a way to make adjustments that make things a little easier?”
4. Refusing to engage
For some people, retreating from conflict feels like the most appealing course of action. However, stonewalling someone can make them feel utterly ignored, isolated, and devalued. Meanwhile, habitually repressing negative feelings will often lead to a more dramatic confrontation in the long run. Your partner may also end up exploding months down the line, after learning that the only way to stay close to you is to avoid triggering your tendency to withdraw. If it’s difficult to discuss your problems, disclose this fact to your partner and make it clear that you are trying to find the courage to share your feelings.
5. Relying on subtext to communicate your needs
Struggling to air your emotions can also lead to a heavy reliance on subtext. For example, you might expect your partner to interpret clues, double meanings, and other indirect methods of communicating your needs. This strategy is a recipe for disaster, however, as your partner cannot your mind and will often miss these subtle hints. If you want your relationship to change, you need to take a deep breath and put your concerns into words. Although it can initially seem very frightening to make yourself vulnerable in this way, it is a much fairer and more honest approach that typically leads to better consequences at a faster rate.
6. Only looking at your own perspective
Finally, remember that empathy is one of the most powerful tools for building and maintaining relationships. How often do you actually try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes? Just as you have unresolved issues and old wounds that can resurface in arguments, so does your partner, and being aware of these sore spots can help you to mend fences. Similarly, you can benefit from thinking about current stresses in your partner’s life.
Is work becoming crushingly demanding, or is ill-health playing a role in causing a short temper? Thinking about these types of questions will open the door to a more understanding and caring relationship, helping to prevent arguments from spiraling out of control.