If you and your partner are struggling to understand one another's point of view, it's possible you may open yourself up to common communication mistakes in relationships. Below, experts outline several common mistakes, as well as how to fix each.
- Shirin Peykar, LMFT, Shirin Peykar is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in narcissistic abuse, couples therapy, divorce, mindful parenting.
7 common communication mistakes in relationships couples make, and how to fix each
1. Thinking of what you want to say next instead of listening
When you're having a heated discussion, do you actively listen to what your partner has to say, or are you by chance just considering your counter-argument and waiting until it's your turn to speak? If you're not authentically listening, you're likely to just remain in a combative cycle of communication.
This may leave your partner feeling unheard and unseen. “In order to fully feel intimate with another person, we need to feel heard, validated, and empathized with,” says Shirin Peykar, LMFT. The key to improving communication skills lies in practicing it.
“Initially, you may need to just summarize and repeat back what you heard your partner say while reflecting back their emotions as well,” she adds. Notice where your mind goes when you are listening to your partner speak, and start working on redirecting yourself back to your partner in the moment.
2. Letting emotional language take the driver's seat
“When we are triggered, we are often unable to communicate clearly in the way that we intend to express ourselves,” Peykar says. We often criticize, defend, or attack our partner rather than express a need or desire. Give yourself space to reflect, self-soothe and move through your emotions before you initiate a conversation with your partner.
“If the conversation went south, separate and give yourself 20 minutes to 24 hours to self-soothe once you are triggered.” —Shirin Peykar, LMFT
“If the conversation went south, separate and give yourself 20 minutes to 24 hours to self-soothe once you are triggered,” she says. “But, be sure to explain that you need time to come down from the heightened emotions before you can resume the conversation.”
3. Getting defensive
“Another common communication problem is when we are using disagreements to prove our point rather than to understand our differences,” Peykar says. We are trying to make our partner side with us as a way of attaining acknowledgment and validation, but it’s the wrong mind-set here.
“Rather than using communication to prove your point, focus on the emotions you are feeling and the needs that are unmet,” she says. Express those. It will be a lot easier for your partner to validate you when you speak from emotion. Aim to understand your partner's position, feelings, and needs first, and ask for that in return.
4. Suppressing your frustration to avoid conflict
Suppressing feelings about something a partner did or said as a means to avoid conflict is one of the most common communication mistakes in relationships. “This is what contributes to partners communicating in passive-aggressive ways,” Peykar says.
“We need to communicate what we feel in direct, but soft ways so we can feel like we can take space in a relationship and our partner can hear us out,” she says. Suppressing or avoiding conflict only makes conflict bigger and harder to resolve in the long run.
5. Trying to fix a partner's problem without asking what they need
“There is a common inclination to advise our partner when they express ‘negative’ emotions such as anger, anxiety, or sadness, and we may feel uncomfortable with these emotions so we try to solve them away,” Peykar says.
This is often not what they need, though. “Much of the time, we just need someone to say that what we feel is okay and that we have a right to feel as we do,” she adds. Leave out your opinions about how your partner feels or what they can do about the situation and instead simply focus on them.
To help you successfully do this, ask your partner what they need, whether there is anything you can do or say, and offer a hug. “The way to becoming comfortable with others' difficult emotions is to become comfortable with our own,” she says.
6. Not sharing enough and being silent
“Partners who under-communicate—they do not give enough context or details about their desires, needs, boundaries—may run into challenges,” says therapist and certified sex therapist Jennifer Litner, LMFT, CST. It's better to be extra explicit about what you mean, so there's no guesswork that opens you up to potential communication struggles. Otherwise, your partner many not understand what’s going on and you are upset.
7. Talking over each other
Interruption during communication is a big red flag. “When one person is speaking, it's most effective for the other partner to listen and reflect on what their partner is saying,” says Litner. So, let your partner share what they need to say without being so quick to cut them off.
And again, keep those ears open. As Litner says, “partners who are revisiting their own words in their head when a partner is talking may miss out on what the other partner is saying.”
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