Is your relationship in peril? Perhaps new tensions have arisen during lockdown? Maybe your ability to communicate has failed altogether?
Don’t fret: there’s a way through this.
Words are powerful, but they don’t always have a fixed meaning. Sometimes we interpret other people’s words, and we take offence when none was intended. Indeed, the WAY we speak can change the meaning of what we say.
Better communication can be a pathway to healthier relationships, so in this article, we’re going to explore how you might adapt the way you communicate to improve your relationship for good.
Communication is more than words
Sometimes we struggle to explain ourselves – especially in the heat of an argument. It can be helpful to learn HOW to express ourselves more clearly.
Communication is a two-way street where one person speaks, and the other listens. But when that two-way process breaks down, we find ourselves caught in a cycle of misunderstanding which can make us feel judged, worthless, and frustrated.
And if our relationship suffers, so can our professional lives.
What are the patterns of relationships?
More often than not, we follow a fixed pattern of communication, and – usually – we’re not conscious of it.
According to John Gottman (1992), there are four principal poor communication patterns in a relationship, which he also refers to as the “four horsemen”:
- Criticism – outbursts of constant complaints
- Contempt – often represented non-verbally: eye-rolling, etc.
- Defensiveness – not feeling accountable for one’s wrong-doing
- Stonewalling – backing away emotionally or physically from the relationship
rather than dealing with a problem
I’m sure – if you’re really honest – you can recognise some of those traits in both yourself and your partner.
These patterns often result in negative consequences for your relationship.
Effects of poor communication in relationships
Recognising the “four horsemen” of poor communication helps us recognise HOW we contribute to the tensions within our relationships.
The most obvious consequences of negative/poor communication are:
- Lack of trust
- Family tension
- Constant conflict and power play
- Aggression and frustration
- Depression and loneliness
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Disregard for self and others
These negative patterns of communication can have a devastating effect on your relationship.
Thankfully, it’s possible to learn new paths of communication.
How to Improve Communication in a Relationship
Great communication starts with ourselves. We mentioned earlier that communication is speaking AND listening. Do you listen, or are you always eager to talk first? Do you talk over each other? Or do you switch off when they contribute to the conversation?
Consider how you communicate – does it match the negative patterns of communication as outlined by Gottman?
Consider how you perceive situations – when you feel threatened, does that shape your instinctive response?
A range of therapies can help you relearn your instinctive behaviours where they cause problems in your relationships.
There’s more to a relationship than just loving someone; that’s the easy part. Considering how you trigger each other’s negative responses is key to fixing communication problems.
Effective Communication approaches
Think about your:
- Opening lines of communication – how you initiate a conversation counts in the response you receive
- Respectful communication – understand that what YOU say is as impactful to the other person’s feelings as their words are to you
You can change your negative patterns of communication with:
- Mediated communication – consider getting a professional to moderate the conversation
- Practising dialogue – changing how we converse; learning to provide space for the other person to speak.
- Active listening – learning to listen and respond appropriately to what the other person is saying
- Dialogic listening – learning new approaches through constructed dialogues
- Questioning stereotypes – accepting that our responses are learned, and sometimes it can help to challenge them.
Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping before you say “you’re always like this” or “I should have expected this from you”. Sometimes we need to question our own belief systems to align with our partners.
Learning new patterns of behaviour
Our communication patterns are something we learn and develop over time. They evolve from how our parents interacted with us, and how we’ve experienced the world in the past.
But just as we learned the behaviours that are causing us problems in our relationships, we can unlearn them and replace those negative patterns with positive ones.
SupportRoom is here to help
SupportRoom recently went live, offering round-the-clock therapies from the convenience of your smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer.
We pair you with experienced, qualified therapists for a fraction of the cost of face-to-face couples therapy; our large network of licensed therapists are ready to help whenever you need it.