Research on relationships show which communication habits in couples can build long-term, satisfying relationships and which can lead to conflict, unhappiness, and lead towards a breakup. Research shows that it is not the differences in background, age or opinions that make or break a relationship, it is behaviours, in particular about how people communicate that influence the health of a relationship the most. Listed below are four of the most damaging behaviours to any relationship:
Criticism: When you notice a problem in your life and relationship and you turn it into a commentary on your life partner’s character flaws, it becomes a tirade of criticism. You can catch yourself using criticism when you say the words “always” or “never” when describing something your partner does or doesn’t do. Criticism is different from complaint. Issuing complaints is a normal and healthy and focuses simply on the actual issue.
A complaint focuses on the problem while criticism makes the partner the problem. This is likely to make your partner respond with defensiveness.
The use of criticism in a relationship is usually due to having unmet needs. Sadly, if you keep criticising, it is even less likely to get your partner to respond to these needs.
Defensiveness: It is a reaction to perceived criticism. Sometimes the criticism is actually there, and sometimes it’s simply a projection. When people get defensive, they tend to over-explain, take on a victim mentality, counter criticize, keep using the word “but’ in a negative sense. When you become defensive, you tend to accelerate the disconnect and amp up the criticism. Instead of getting defensive, it is advisable to take responsibility for your part, even if you believe you only own an iota of the issue.
Stonewalling: When someone in the conversation starts to act like a stone wall, it might seem like their partner doesn’t care about them. They will notice that their partner looks away, remains silent through most of the conversation, and perhaps even crosses their arms across their chest. It is likely that they are in a state of physiological flooding, and this happens when the body detects a threat. In conflict, our body will release stress hormones, and the parts of our brain responsible for relational behaviours goes offline. This means we dip into our survival instincts: freezing, fleeing, or fighting, and we lose our relational instincts, like problem-solving, humor, and affection.
When someone is physiologically flooded, it is not possible to have a productive conversation. That is why it’s important for both people in the conversation to agree to take a break when a person is stonewalling and find space from the conflict. You can come back to the conversation when you are calm. This return builds trust within the relationship.
Contempt. At minimum, it is very mean, and at worst, it becomes emotional abuse. According to research, contempt has shown to be the biggest indicator of broken relationships and is connected to health issues for the partner the contempt is directed toward, including a lower immune system. When people have contempt, they express their discontent by utilising shame and mean-spirited sarcasm to put someone down.
Contempt is developed through long-standing resentment or betrayal.
Rather than utilising contempt, you need to work on building new communication skills to discuss your upset feelings. It is also important to build a culture of appreciation. This means being sure to notice what your partner is doing right and expressing that to them when you see it as often as you can.
All the above behaviours can be changed and modified to build better communication with your partner especially when you are upset or stressed. Just be aware and use your words consciously to ensure that you a building a relationship that is based on love, appreciation and trust.