The Dos & Don'ts of Communication in Relationships
Communication is a big part of the conversation when we are speaking in terms of relationships. We have all heard the saying, ‘Communication is the key to any successful relationship’. That saying sounds simple but in all actuality it is very complex and can be an extremely intriguing topic for those of us who were never taught how to effectively express ourselves, which is almost half of the population. This blog post breaks down communication within relationships and discusses the do’s and dont’s for a successful relationship.
The Do's of Communicating
Honesty is a heavy part of the communication discussion. Again, it sounds simple —Just be honest. However, there are layers to being honest within our relationships. There are two ends of the spectrum, we can be honest to a fault and we can be unintentionally dishonest by not sharing enough.
Being honest to a fault is when we are too honest with our significant other. This could mean sharing every thought or feeling that comes to our mind with them at all times. We may have the best of intentions and may be trying to facilitate closeness in the relationship, however we could be causing harm by unintentionally hurting our partner’s feelings. For instance, our partner does not need to know if we passed by someone in Wawa earlier that day who we felt was attractive or that we spent thirty minutes in the bathroom earlier that day trying to pop a pimple.
The other side of the spectrum is not being honest enough. In most relationships, when we are choosing to not be completely honest we are actually trying to preserve the relationship, however choosing to be dishonest will always cause harm to the relationship. We may choose to be dishonest by lying by omission. Lying by omission is choosing not to tell our partner something that they would like to know. For instance, we are cleaning the house and accidentally break one our partners things and we may choose not to tell them immediately. Or our partner might do something that upsets us and we may choose to not tell them how they made us feel to avoid confrontation. We have good intentions, we are trying not to upset our partner and are trying to avoid a possible disagreement, however choosing to not share our feelings in any relationship will always create distance.
When honesty comes up in couples therapy, we often spend the most time discussing Transparency. Think of some tangible object that is transparent, like a piece of tape. A piece of tape is not all the way see through, however you can still see through it. The goal is to have that metaphor be the illustration for our romantic relationships. This is a good way to judge if we are being honest enough within our romantic relationships. As a licensed therapist, transparency is one of my main focal points for a romantic relationship, so I am going to give several examples for this topic.
—Maybe we passed by an employee in Wawa earlier that day who made a comment to us about how attractive we were. We could practice transparency and tell our partner about the interaction just for the sake of our partner knowing that it happened because possibly two weeks from then we go into Wawa with our partner and the employee says something again. If we practiced transparency than our partner already is aware of this, if we had not than we might leave our partner feeling confused and insecure about the interaction.
—Maybe we are at work and a regular customer asks to follow us on Instagram. We think nothing of it because we are familiar with them. After we accept the follow, they begin sending us messages like, ‘Good Morning Beautiful’ ‘ How was your day today?’ We feel in our gut that the interaction has more than friendly motives. We can choose to practice transparency and tell our partner about the interaction or we can choose to keep it to ourselves. We will create a stronger bond with our partner if we choose transparency rather than choosing to keep a secret.
—Maybe we made an impulsive purchase on the credit card. We can choose to tell our partner about it and take accountability, we can choose to lie by omission or we can choose to try to hide it all together.
—Maybe we had a rough day at work and we know that we are going to come home in a funk. Transparency could be as simple as telling our partner exactly how we are feeling. For example, “Hey, I am sorry if I am quiet tonight I had a rough day at work.” By practicing transparency and by expressing our feelings we allow our partner to know exactly what is happening with us. If we choose not to tell them how we are feeling, we may come home, behave distantly and our partner could potentially take it personally.
—This example happened to me last week in my marriage. My dog broke our fence that my husband had been working so hard on to attempt to keep both of our dogs in the yard. She managed to stick her head through it and break it. I did not want to tell my husband because I knew he was going to be upset about it after a long day at work and I knew that he was going to be upset with our dog. I choose transparency even though I did not necessarily want too and because I did my husband was far more accepting of what happened rather than him finding out on his own at a later time.
The Don’ts of Communicating
Transparency will help relationships thrive and if it does not --than it may be time to reevaluate our relationships. Similar to helpful forms of communication, there can also be communication that takes place in a relationship that is harmful to the relationship. Dr. John Gottman predicts divorce in marriages with a 94% accuracy rate based off of criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling within communication in relationships.
Criticism can be simply being too critical or our partner or placing unrealistic expectations on our partner. For instance, we expect a healthy dinner to be on the table each day at exactly four o’clock and we allow little flexibility despite our wife also taking care of three children at home.
Defensiveness can be not taking accountability and pointing the finger at the other person. For instance, our spouse comes home and dinner is not ready by four o’clock and instead of saying, “I am sorry honey dinner is running late today because I forgot to defrost the chicken,” we say accuse our partner of placing unrealistic expectations on us.
Contempt is communicating in a condescending/sarcastic manner. For instance, “What do Dads know about taking care of babies.” Or a couple is discussing household chores and a spouse says that they clean up here and there and the other spouse responds by rolling their eyes and laughing.
Stonewalling is becoming silent. This can happen in a disagreement when emotions are too high and one person just completely shuts down or this can a spouse choosing to give the other spouse the dreaded silent treatment punishment.
Engaging in manipulative communication and behavior is also harmful to any relationship. Some common forms of manipulation are people pleasing, gas-lighting and passive aggressive communication/behavior.
People pleasing is a form of manipulation that often hides under the radar because it behaves in a preferable way. The person engaging in the people pleasing is behaving in a dishonest fashion usually to be able to control the situation so that they can benefit from it. For example, a spouse offers to do all of the grocery shopping to control the budget and to control the food that comes into the house and then becomes resentful for having to do all of the grocery shopping for the household.
Gas-lighting is dishonest, time consuming and super confusing. People engaging in gas-lighting behavior will deny the truth despite tangible evidence, will wear the other person down over time, will recruit others to agree with them and will throw in some compliments to really have the other person second guessing themselves. This might look like a partner behaving in a dishonest way, continuously denying evidence, refusing to take accountability and then accusing their partner for their reaction to their behavior.
Passive Aggressive Communication/Behavior is a form of manipulation that we may not always hear, but we always feel within our relationships. A person who behaves in a passive aggressive way might agree to do something that they do not necessarily want to do and then might be irritated and resentful as a result. This person may choose not to tell their partner how they are feeling about something and then may come off cold, distant and irritated within the relationship.
To be able to effectively balance honesty in our communication and to effectively practice transparency in our relationships, we must be taking care of ourselves individually. We need to be able to be aware of ourselves enough to know what we struggle with, within ourselves and within our relationships to be able to effectively cope and to appropriately express with others. If we have experienced childhood trauma or have fear of abandonment this could lead to insecurities and mentalities that may interfere with communication, honesty and transparency. It is necessary that we work through our own stuff so that we can be our best selves in a relationship. Therapy is a great place to start learning about our own communication patterns.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm a licensed anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals,
adolescents and couples in the state of New Jersey. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are struggling with relationships and would like to schedule a free consultation,