Communication is the bedrock of relationships. But when two people with different backgrounds, perspectives and concerns get together, there are many things that can go wrong along the way. No matter how in tune you are with your partner, misunderstandings and communication gaffes are always possible. Here are five of the most common, yet avoidable communication mistakes that could harm a relationship.
- Assuming That More Communication Is the Solution
You’ve probably heard before that good communication is the cornerstone of a happy relationship, and, while that might be true, communication alone won’t necessarily create that happiness. Sometimes, too much talking could do the reverse. One of the biggest mistakes is assuming that communication creates connection. For many women, this is often true (talking helps us feel connected to others) but for many men (and for some women), this is not true. It’s important to find ways to connect first, before communicating, or else the communication can just generate further feelings of hurt and disconnection. Connecting through a shared activity, acknowledging the efforts the other person makes, or even just being in physical proximity may create the needed connection required to have open and effective communication.
It helps to understand your partner’s primary communication style. People have different ways they experience love best: through positive words, touch, quality time, etc. For example, you may be the type for whom actions speak louder than words; if your partner showers you with compliments but never helps with the household jobs, that’s hard to connect with. If you and your partner find yourselves always talking things out but still never getting over relationship hurdles, maybe concentrate on other, non-verbal ways to connect.
Of course, talking often is productive and necessary—the happiest couples talk with each other at least five hours a week—but you have to make sure you’re really speaking on the same wavelength and, if arguing, doing it productively.
- Expecting Your Partner to Read Your Mind
Remember that time your significant other was supposed to do something you wanted but later you found out he or she didn’t know? Yes, try as we might, humans aren’t great at reading each other’s minds. (We have a hard enough time understanding what we do communicate clearly to each other.)
You really can’t assume that your spouse knows how you feel or what you want. You don’t share the same feelings, worldview or thoughts. You might notice the dishes in the sink or remember that the kids haven’t done their homework yet, but he might not. When in doubt, say it out loud.
- Giving in and Not Really Saying What You Want or Think
If one or both people are averse to conflict, chances are emotions will be buried in the name of pleasing the other person. While this keeps the peace for the short-term, it will only gradually erode your own happiness and, in turn, the relationship.
- Harping on (Possibly Hopeless) Issues
The opposite is true as well for couples where both people are stubborn and refuse to compromise. In that case, it’s more like a one way street with two cars playing chicken with each other. One example of this is when one person fixates on their feelings and keeps going on and on about it while the other partner withdraws defensively: One partner is just not willing to give up, continuing toxic conversations and repeating rash lectures. It does not lead to any constructive dialogue and s/he becomes a diligent and insensitive lecturer, making forceful monologues that drown in defensive silence. Nothing gets resolved; the relationship deteriorates further. Both partners get exhausted and wary.
This is a communication pattern of ever-diminishing returns. Soon just the mentioning of x makes one want to run or hide. A pattern of talking at someone, not to someone, breeds disconnect and widens the relational rift. It does not matter how well intended the comments are once they are delivered as a bullet point list of suggestions or a stern monotone monologue with no intermissions. Such a way is doomed to just sink in silence and can’t serve any good purpose.
When this happens, it’s time to just stop talking, rest, regroup, and try a different approach. Maybe on this specific matter you might not ever get your way—or maybe later you’ll get through, but not by harping on.
- Not Considering Things from the Other Person’s Point of View
Sometimes it’s just a matter of being clearer, more upfront, or knowing the best way to communicate with your partner that’s at the core of better communication. Equally important, though, is making the effort to understand things from your partner’s perspective—something we might not always remember to do.
Empathy is the most important skill you can practice, personally and professionally. You don’t always have to agree with the other person, but at least you’ll both be on the same relationship page.