Studies show that a lack of communication is the number one reason couples break up or get divorced. Nagging is a major culprit — relentless reminders, suggestions and advice on how, when and why we should do things. But what are some of the other bad communication habits that erode away at couples?
1. Inauthenticity. How many times do you catch yourself saying “yes” when you really mean “no?” Do you say, “I don’t know” for fear of being judged, dismissed or rejected? When we systematically accept things against our will, shut down to keep the peace and rationalize why that’s okay, we set ourselves up for resentment and anger down the line.
Covering up our feelings and not trusting our partner to be mature enough to manage their response to “no” just won’t work. It’s better to say, “No, I’m not available to discuss this right now. I need to unwind and think about it. I’ll be ready to talk about it in an hour.” Then keep your promise.
2. Incongruence. Most of our communication is non-verbal, and when it’s out of sync with our words, we are sending mixed messages. No wonder couples argue, get frustrated and eventually tune each other out!
When we say one thing while rolling our eyes, tightening our lips and/or shrugging shoulders, we send another message, usually one of being dismissive, defensive and/or judgmental. One way to avoid this is to maintain eye contact. This ensures active listening and allows you to focus on what the other person is saying instead of considering what you are planning on saying next.
3. Win-lose attitude. In the world of neuro-linguistic programming, we say that effective communication is when your message is not simply sent, but transmitted and received by the listener. When talking about uncomfortable subjects, it’s too easy to become judgmental, blaming and defensive — tactics that all lead to communication breaking down.
Priding yourself on being a pit-bull, taking things personally, finger-pointing, finding fault, and needing to have the last word, well, it just doesnt work. Instead, set your intention for how you want the conversation to go so both of you win and take some time to really think about all the different possibilities and outcomes. Creating a peace treaty together that sets up the guidelines for communication to ensure smooth, respectful and authentic communication is a great tool.
4. Interrupting, finishing sentences and forgetting to pause. This is a bundle because when you have one you almost always have the other two as well. How many of us have forgotten what we learned in grammar school? Don’t interrupt and let the other person take time to formulate an answer. On this level, men and women communicate so differently.
Men often complain that they are still thinking about an answer when their partner starts badgering them for a quicker response or asks another question while they are still thinking about the last one. Take time to pause by counting to 30 before saying anything at all and don’t ask several questions at once. And while you’re at it, do as we do in France: Roll your tongue around your mouth seven times before you speak.
You might look like a cow chewing your cud but it forces you to slow down and really think about what you’re going to say. It might even get a smile in an otherwise tense situation, but at least your partner will feel respected and know that you’re patiently giving him to time to respond.
5. Focusing on the negative, and impoliteness. Somewhere along the way, the idea of polite requests, please, thank you and other words of appreciation in everyday conversations have gone the way of the Smith-Corona typewriter. From the classic, “Don’t leave the toilet seat up!” to “How long does it take to empty the trash?” — these commands are the quickest way to send a man to his man cave.
Instead, adopt this simple one-liner that will train any man to jump up and help. “Honey, I feel like a queen when you see the trash can is full and take it out for me! Thank you so much for doing that!” There’s nothing wrong with a little over the top appreciation which always works and is the best way to foster open, loving authentic communication.