- We were all raised with different communication dynamics that influenced how we learned to interact today.
- We can’t fully eliminate conflict in our relationships, but we can develop new skills that deepen our connections.
- When we keep a mental tally of all the things our partner has ever done to wrong or hurt us, we begin to look for reasons to be upset.
We’ve all had to find creative ways to manage our stress and anxiety during the last year. For those of us between partners, the social isolation of extended lockdowns has taken a toll on our mental health. But being stuck at home has also caused relationship friction. As we continue to spend more time at home than usual, here’s a look at some of the most destructive communication habits we can engage in and how couples counseling helps break the cycle.
- Keeping Score. When we keep a mental tally of all the things our partner has ever done to wrong or hurt us, we begin to look for reasons to be upset. This often leads to pent up resentments that our partner is unaware of until we let them all out in a fit of anger. Not only is this confusing for the other person in the relationship who thinks the response is way out of proportion, but it’s not likely to lead to resolution. Couples counseling can help you and your partner develop the tools to work through frustrations before they become major issues. We’ve all had arguments that left us uncertain of what we were even fighting about. This kind of communication (or lack of) can do real damage to a relationship.
- Bringing Up the Past. Similarly, if you’re always dredging up the past in your relationship, it’s a good idea to examine why, as well as what you need to really move forward. Using ammunition from the past against each other erodes trust. No one is perfect. We need to know that we can make mistakes and atone for them, or why bother trying? Without forgiveness, we’re always stuck reviving the same wounds. This is demoralizing, to say the least.
- Abusive Language. We may not consider it abusive, but name-calling is highly destructive and has no place in a relationship. When we engage in this kind of behavior, it signals a clear lack of respect for the person we’re supposed to cherish. Sometimes things are said in the heat of the moment, but it’s important to remember that we can never take them back. This is a clear sign that your relationship needs couples counseling.
- Lies. Lying is one of the fastest ways to destroy a relationship. Sometimes we tell white lies or withhold information to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. But trust is at the core of all healthy relationships. It’s not always easy to tell the truth, but it’s even harder to rebuild a relationship once the trust is destroyed. As Iyanla Vanzant once said, “The truth will set you free, but you have to endure the labor pains of birthing it.”
- Talking Over Each Other. No one is born a good listener. It takes practice and empathy to develop good listening skills. But this is usually easier in the beginning, when we’re still learning about someone and they seem like an alluring mystery. Another indication that your relationship would benefit from couples counseling is if you tend to talk over each other. When we’ve been with someone for a long time, we often stop listening as carefully because we feel like we know our partner so well. Maybe we’re even convinced we already know what they’ll say. But if we’re to the point in our relationship where interrupting and talking louder seems like the solution, we need an intervention.
- Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Most of us weren’t raised with healthy communication skills. We might not even realize that we can ask for what we need instead of being angry when our needs aren’t met. It can be easy to fall into the trap of: “If they really loved me, they’d know…” But none of us are mind readers. Expecting someone to just understand how we feel makes them responsible for our happiness, which is not only unfair but also unfulfilling.
- Generalizing. Couples counseling can also help us to be more specific about the aspects of our relationship we hope to work on. Generalizing tends to go hand in hand with blame. For example, “You always…” or, “You never…” The response to these kinds of statements is usually defensive and unproductive. We can go back and forth all day without getting anywhere. Instead, we need to be specific about the issue. For example, “I feel hurt when you look at your phone when I’m talking to you.” Instead of, “You never listen to me.” Couples therapy teaches us how to be more precise in our language so that the message received is the same as the intention of the message sent. We can also follow up with a clear request about how we’d like things to change, so that we’re being an active part of the solution.
- Stonewalling. We’ve all been on the giving or receiving end of stonewalling, but maybe you’ve never heard the term before. Stonewalling refers to shutting the other person out for a period of time and refusing to communicate. It’s also known as the silent treatment and it can do as much damage to a relationship as emotional outbursts if it goes on long enough. Taking a time out in a relationship is normal, but if you never time back in, it can lead to unresolved feelings.
- Intellectualizing Emotions. Some people find it difficult to fully express their emotions and feel more comfortable intellectualizing their feelings. They might even view emotional vulnerability as a sign of weakness due to past experiences. Stereotypically, these traits are often considered more masculine, however, both men and women can be prone to intellectualization. Chronic intellectualization can easily be interpreted as coldness or a lack of care by their partner. Couples therapy can create a safe space to get in touch with our feelings and healthy ways to express them.
The bottom line is that we were all raised with different communication dynamics that influenced how we learned to interact today. In order to have healthier relationships, we may need to unlearn some of these destructive patterns. We can’t fully eliminate conflict in our relationships, but we can develop new skills that deepen our connections.
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