Satisfying Communication: Stumbling Blocks

by David A. Yeats LCSW


Part 1: Stumbling Blocks to Satisfying Communication

In relationships, partners will often become reactive or triggered with each other simply because of the way something is said.  If either partner says something in a way that has a loaded emotional tone or implies a certain assumption, the other partner may easily react (internally, if not overtly) by becoming triggered.

There are endless examples.  If I say to my partner, “Why didn’t you put the bread away?’ my partner may hear in that statement that I am telling her or him what to do, or that I am being critical or judgmental, or that things need to be done my way.  My partner may feel as if she or he had been spoken to by a critical, controlling parent, and feel infantilized or judged as if she or he were a bad child.

The best way to avoid a bomb going off following a seemingly innocuous statement is to create an environment of trust, respect, and good will, so that it is easy to see a partner’s question as an innocent request for information.

There are many communication approaches that are landmines, and unfortunately, we have all seen these poor skills modeled, have used them ourselves, and have seen few examples in our culture of healthier communicating styles.

Here is a partial list of communication approaches that are unfair, not respectful, not collaborative, and not safe, and which will almost always guarantee that a partner will feel an internal sense of needing to protect her or himself in response—and that protection may often further escalate a situation.  Each of these behaviors can result a high degree of likelihood that a partner will react by becoming triggered.

Judging someone
Criticizing someone
Blaming
Labeling
Most “you” statements
Pseudo feeling statements
(e.g. “I feel like you…”)
Why statements
Asking another to justify or explain
Name calling
Threatening
Yelling
Demanding or Ordering
Interrupting
Scorekeeping
Case building
My Way is the Right Way
Talking About More than One Subject at a Time
Analyzing a Partner
Silent treatment
Intimidating
Accusing
Ranting
Taunting
Nagging
Evaluating a Partner
Mocking
Playing the martyr or victim
Self-Righteousness
Good One/Bad One
Self Pity
Humiliating
Distorting
Prescribing
Assuming
Distracting
Devaluing
Ignoring
Put-Downs
Self Put-Downs
Withholding
Finger pointing
Bullying
Insulting
Stuffing
Ridiculing
Lying
Tit for tat
Aggressive style, Passive-Aggressive, or Passive Styles of Communication
Assuming
Mind reading
Predicting outcomes
Shaming
Condescending
Sarcasm
Punishing behaviors
Throwing or breaking things
Physical violence
Hurting another person or animal
….and many more.

Many of these behaviors are everyday ways people will communicate, and some, obviously, are more extreme.  All are disrespectful, and all are damaging.  Most of these behaviors imply an inequality and lack of mutuality.  For example, all judgmental, blaming, or criticizing statements fall into this category.  We may feel so frustrated or hurt or angry about a partner’s behavior that judging them about it may seem appropriate, but we end up talking down to our partner rather than treating the other person as a responsible adult.  If a partner acts irresponsibly and we treat them as irresponsible (like “bad children”), we promote more irresponsible (and resentful) behavior. 

None of these approaches encourage safety, good will, or respect between partners.  They encourage separateness and oppositional feelings rather than connection and reciprocity.  That is reason enough to avoid them, and to work instead to create a repertoire of positive, honoring, and mutually supportive communication techniques—that we consciously and deliberately choose to use—so that we can create the kind of relationship we want to have and have imagined.