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The Three Types of Damaging Communication in a Relationship

by Amy Guertin, studioD

The words you choose have a direct impact on the success of your relationship, according to couples' therapist and co-author of "Couple Talk," Thomas Haller. Open and positive communication leads to a healthy, intimate relationship, while adverse or dismissive communication leads to a fragmented, stressful relationship.

Absolute and Accusatory

Starting off a sentence with “you,” especially combined with an absolute such as “always” or “never,” invites a defensive response. "You" sentences are interpreted as attacking, and absolute words, due to their untrue nature, are indefensible. "You" statements and absolute words shut down communication, putting your partner in a no-win situation and leading to angry and resentful communication.“I” statements open up the lines of communication.

Personal Attacks

When trying to communicate a problem, people often focus on the other person instead of the issue at hand. Calling your partner "lazy" instead of discussing the dirty dishes that are piling up attacks your partner's character, rather than addressing the issue of the dirty dishes. According to psychologist Mark Dombeck, person-focused attacks happen more often in troubled relationships, in which partners view each other more negatively and are less able to forgive mistakes. Person-centered attacks not only hurt your partner, but reinforce your negative feelings toward their unfavorable traits.

Not Listening

Not listening to your partner can be very damaging to your relationship. Whether you have too much on your mind, you are angry or you are focused on correcting the mistakes or exaggerations in what your partner is saying, you are likely thinking about what you want to say next, rather than listening to what your partner is trying to say. Not paying attention has two negative effects on your relationship: you are unable to solve the current problem and your significant other feels as though they are unimportant to you.

Problem-Solving Communication

Communication issues can prevent you from resolving problems and thereby damage your relationships. "You" statements, absolute words and person-centered attacks can be restated as "I feel ___ when you ___ because ___." This keeps the focus on you, your feelings and the specific issue. Listening quietly to what your partner is saying and then repeating it back in your own words to check your understanding is called active listening. It reassures your significant other that you are listening, paying attention and understanding their message. This makes your partner feel validated and important to you, and can help open the lines of effective, problem-solving communication in your relationship.

About the Author

Amy Guertin has a master's degree in counseling psychology and will earn her Ph.D. in 2014. Guertin is a licensed counselor and has 15 years of experience practicing psychotherapy, primarily working with children, adolescents and their families. She is also a college psychology professor and is the happiest when she is in the classroom.

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