Why does communication break down so easily for couples? Most of us carry common habits into our communication styles without even knowing that we’re sowing seeds of hurt, distrust, and miscommunication. Discovering our communication mistakes is freeing because it allows us to escape cycles that have left us feeling frustrated for so long! How do you make sure every word is counting toward good instead of communication chaos? Here’s my list of the top five communication mistakes to avoid in your relationship.
- Focusing on Comebacks
One of the biggest mistakes we can make when talking things out with a partner is focusing on what we’re going to say next instead of listening to what is being said in the moment. As a therapist, active listening is something that I rely on to be good at my job. I also rely on active listening in my personal life to be a good partner. According to a 2018 study that looked at the power of listening for couples, attentive listening while the other partner expressed stress was significantly linked with better dyadic coping behaviors and higher relationship satisfaction. The study also found that partners displaying less attentive listening during a partner’s stress expression engaged in more problem-oriented and negative dyadic coping.
The truth is that focusing on your comeback while your partner speaks is actually closer to sparring than talking. What’s more, it’s going to keep you in a combative stance during communication instead of helping you to understand your partner. It’s important to learn to sit with the discomfort of not liking what your partner is saying. It’s also important to address what they’ve actually said instead of jumping into a defensive stance that’s focused on deflecting and minimizing.
- Bottling Your Frustration
Does your partner actually know that something is bothering you? Suppressing your feelings to “keep the peace” is poison for a relationship. It’s a myth that “happy” couples never argue. In fact, not feeling secure enough in your relationship to let your partner know that something they’re doing is bothering you is a red flag.
- Fixing Without Asking
You’ve pinpointed every single problem that’s holding your partner back in life. You’ve also concocted an elaborate roadmap for how they can fix everything. The only problem is that your partner never asked you for help. There are many reasons why people fall into “fixer” mode with partners. It’s possible that you are acting out of a need for control. You may also feel that your partner is not actually good enough for you in the deepest depths of your heart. You may also be in the habit of always being the “rescuer” in your relationships. When you’re drifting into fixer mode, it’s the right time to examine why you’re compelled to take control in this way.
- Not Feeling Comfortable When Your Partner Expresses Negative Emotions
Communication sometimes breaks down because one partner can’t “tolerate” what the other partner is saying. When your partner says that they are unhappy with the way a certain aspect of your relationship is functioning, you automatically hear their words as words of rejection. You may also feel uncomfortable just hearing that your partner is unhappy about anything. People who were raised to be “people pleasers” will often experience intense discomfort simply through knowing that a partner feels stressed, tired, anxious, or angry about any facet of life. Every bit of their unhappiness feels like your responsibility. Allowing yourself to accept your partner’s negative emotions allows you to be truly present in your relationship.
- Forgetting Who You’re Talking to in the Moment
Many people slip into an argument with their mom, dad, sibling, or ex while in the middle of a conversation with their current partner without realizing it! The truth is that we bring wounds and patterns from formative relationships to all of our future relationships until we heal past hurts. Unfortunately, that means that “innocent” partners often bear the brunt of our past pains and insecurities. When making any type of accusatory statement, double-check that these words are based on actual actions or words from your current partner.