For better or for worse, every relationship has patterns of communication. While some can help you strengthen your bond, others might give birth to an array of problems—both temporary and long-term.
“Good communication is the number one sign of a healthy relationship. People want to come home to someone that they can talk to. Someone who will not just listen with open ears but also with an open heart,” says Dr Seema Hingorani, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist who has been treating couples and solving relationship problems for almost two decades.
Most relationships have a similar story. They begin with bliss, but as you peel each layer with time, things begin to change. When the honeymoon period ends, we start to see the emotional issues, unpleasant habits, and shortcomings of our partners. Our shortcomings also come into play, even if we try to hide them. When we feel frustrated, conflict arises. While it’s true that conflict is completely natural—it also can severely impair our relationships. So we need an antidote for conflict, a way to identify patterns that degrade a relationship beyond repair. This is where effective communication comes into play.
To make things easier, we’ve curated a list of harmful communication patterns that you should avoid, and solutions that can help fix the damage. Let’s have a look at them.
The blame game
According to Dr Hingorani, this communication pattern can be easily identified and is extremely common in toxic relationships. “It can lead to defensiveness and mistrust, and can also negatively impact your intimacy,” she adds. This happens when people aren’t ready to take accountability for their actions and start blaming their partner instead. It can look something like this:
“You always do this”
“You never listen to me”
“This is your fault”
“Why didn’t you tell me”
The solution: When you are blaming your partner for something, pause and ask yourself, “Is it really that serious?” Most things we fight over in life are a result of snowballing. Learn how to identify the problem in its earlier stages and fix it right there and then. If you still think that the issue is something more significant, then remember that there are effective ways to communicate without bashing each other.
Keeping the score
This happens when someone feels that they’re doing most of the work while their partner is slacking off. “There should be a sense of equality in every relationship. Think of it like a fifty-fifty partnership rather than one person being the boss of everything,” says Dr Hingorani. This unhealthy communication pattern can lead to resentment and competition and looks something like this:
“I cooked five times this week”
“I’ve been dropping our son at school every day”
“I always do the laundry”
“I always make time for you, what have you done in return?”
The solution: “Relationships where there is a well-defined giver-taker dynamic rarely work out. This is very common in relationships that have huge age gaps or when one partner makes significantly more money than the other,” says Dr Hingorani. One can easily solve this by being more selfless in the relationship. When both partners focus on giving rather than receiving, then no one feels taken advantage of. One more thing to keep in mind is that you should never keep track of what you’ve done for each other.
Related Story: Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Complaining is very common. In fact, most of us do it several times a day. But left unchecked, it can create a lot of problems in our relationships. “If your partner is perpetually complaining then they might be looking for more validation and attention. A lot of times this can also happen due to certain habits they’ve picked up as a child,” says Dr Hingorani. It can get more serious when you start criticising your partner for every little mistake they make and can lead to frustration, indifference and decreased desire. Common phrases include:
“You’re always on your computer”
“We never do anything fun”
“The kids are picking up on your laziness”
“Why can’t you be more like xyz”
The solution: This communication pattern arises when your partner is feeling neglected. And that can be easily resolved by spending more time with each other. Don’t do it for the sake of patching things up but make it a habit to engage in fun activities together. Always remember that if you need something, be direct with your partner and tell them that. That will immediately reduce some of the toxic ways in which your unfulfilled needs can spring up later.
This is a sign of contempt and it happens when we tend to ridicule or demean our partners. We automatically put ourselves on a pedestal and assume we are superior to them. Snarky comments, backhanded compliments and unnecessary sarcasm is all part of it. This can lead to resentment and negatively affect your partner’s self esteem. It can look something like this:
“I was just kidding”
“You look so pretty after losing all that weight”
“Is that what you’re wearing to the event?”
“Why do you have to be so sensitive? Grow up.”
Solution: A lot of times we get so comfortable with our partner that we cross certain boundaries. How you communicate in a romantic relationship is very different from how you talk to your friends,” says Dr Hingorani. Instead of trying to make silly jokes, compliment your partner more often. Remember why you got together in the first place and try to funnel that initial chemistry back into your relationship. Focus on the positives rather than pointing out the negatives and you will receive the same in return.
Related Story: How to Build Trust in a Long Distance Relationship
Threatening to break up, divorce, deny affection or anything else along those lines sends a message to your partner that you are not committed to the relationship. This is a form of toxic manipulation and emotional abuse, and can push your partner further away. Threats prevent communication and can destroy trust. Furthermore, if you continue this behaviour then your words will mean less and your partner will not believe you even when you actually need their help. Watch out for phrases like:
“My ex did this and I broke up with them”
“I can’t deal with you anymore”
“If you do that one more time then I’m filing for a divorce”
“If you hate me so much then why don’t you leave?”
The solution: This communication pattern is a little more serious and is a major red flag. “If you’ve been noticing it recently then you can try to fix it at home by practicing trust-building exercises and apologising for your mistakes more often. But in advanced cases, it’s best to seek professional help and let a couples therapist guide you through the process,” says Dr Hingorani.
Related Story: How to Apologise When You Have Hurt Someone You Love
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