How to Improve Communication in Your Relationships

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Shawn Friday, MEd, LPC, CEAP

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives” – Anthony Robbins

Couple ConversationCommunication is critical to the success of any relationship, whether a significant other, friend, co-worker or boss. There are many tips out there for improving communication in your relationships. While it’s important to know what to do right, it is also critical to know what to avoid. Read on to learn about some behaviors that can sabotage healthy communication.

Beware the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

This refers to the four blockers of effective communication shown to be predictive of eventual divorce by the research of psychologist John Gottman, PhD. It is important for people to be aware when they are engaging in these behaviors, so they can be reduced as much as possible.

  1. Criticism

Any statement suggesting there is something globally wrong with your partner, or is a character flaw is a common communication blocker. It may start with phrases like, “you always,” “the problem with you is” or “you never.” Most hard startups are criticisms. Remember, complaining is okay if done without criticism.

  1. Defensiveness

Any attempt to defend yourself from a perceived attack dismisses the other person’s feelings and denies any responsibility for the problem. When one party perceives themselves as the victim, they may make excuses, meet the complaint with one of their own (the “yes. but…”), or repeats their defense without really listening to the complaint at all. If one partner feels criticized, it is highly likely they will become defensive. The antidote to defensiveness is to accept responsibility for part of the problem and focus on listening to and understanding the other person’s concern.

  1. Contempt

A statement or nonverbal behavior suggesting your partner is lower than you and unworthy is abusive and highly corrosive to the health of any relationship. Mockery, sneering, rolling your eyes, name calling, insults, put-downs and swearing at your partner are all expressions of contempt..

  1. Stonewalling

This term refers to withdrawing from the other person to avoid conflict. Silence or the silent treatment, avoiding eye contact, physically leaving or changing the subject are all examples of stonewalling. The stonewaller is likely emotionally overloaded and feeling too volatile to effectively engage. Self-soothing and calming techniques (via such strategies as a “time out”) can help.

Research shows there is some sign of these apocalyptic horsemen in happy marriages, but the less, the better. Contempt is in a class by itself. It is not found in healthy marriages and is highly predictive of eventual breakup or divorce. If it is present in your relationship, your relationship may be toxic and it is recommended you seek help to address the issues. For more information on this concept and others, check out The Gottman Institute – and read our recent post on how to navigate conflict in your relationship.

We Can Help

Happy, intimate marriages and relationships are possible and have positive effects in so many areas. We're here to help individuals and their family members create and maintain satisfying relationships with each other.

If you have concerns about your relationship, would like help developing healthy patterns of communications or are facing a life-challenge of any type, take advantage of your EAP Benefit through VITAL WorkLife.

Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908, anytime day or night, for the support you and your loved ones need or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App

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