Are Your Communication Habits Holding You
Back From the Relationship You Want?
By Susie and Otto Collins
The silence was so thick that you could slice it with a
Have you ever been in a tense situation with your
partner in which he or she seemed so withdrawn that the
silence and distance between the two of you literally felt
It could be that, instead, your mate tends to
meltdown and lose his or her temper over just about any
disagreement that arises.
It's not uncommon for those in love relationships to become
annoyed or irritated by the habitual ways their partners
communicate-especially when it's about a difficult topic.
It's also not uncommon for each person in the
relationship to believe that if only the other person would
change, communication would flow so much easier.
We can understand that, especially if your partner's
communication habits are different from your own, you might
feel uncomfortable or even judgmental of how he or she
When there is an escalation in the tensions between you and
your partner, it is often due-- at least in part-- to the
ways you are communicating with one another.
When you can
identify the habits that are holding you back from the
relationship you want, you are a step closer to
creating a more connected relationship.
But if you see your partner's communication habits as the
primary, or only, source of disconnect, you are missing a
huge piece of the puzzle.
And you won't get to connection
and closeness in your relationship when you are ignoring or
not seeing all of the pieces (and we know there are times
when relationships seem quite puzzling)!
Acknowledging your own communication habits and opening up
to loving your mate even in the face of his or her
irritating tendencies is powerful and effective.
Matt and Sandi have a stormy relationship-- and that's
putting it mildly! Matt is a straight-forward, tell it like
he sees it kind of person.
If he feels like someone crosses
a line or betrays him, he immediately calls the person out
and demands a change. Sandi prefers to share her feelings in
a less intense way but it doesn't usually turn out that way.
She feels like she has to rise to Matt's
intensity which leaves her feeling exhausted and mean.
Sandi believes that if only Matt knew how to take a deep
breath and ease up when he's triggered, their relationship
would be much closer and more enjoyable.
To you it may seem obvious that Matt is the problem in this
scenario. On the other hand, you might identify with Matt
and see Sandi as a big contributor to the disconnect going
As sure as you might be that your partner is the "problem"
when it comes to your communication relationship, remember
that you literally cannot change another person.
much as Sandi wants to, she cannot change Matt or force him
At the same time, neither Sandi, Matt nor you and your
partner are powerless. You can make changes in how you both
communicate that will move you closer to connection and one
Own up to your contribution to communication dynamics
Yes, of course, communication between you and your mate
might radically improve when your partner changes his or her
habits. You can also look at your situation from another
Shift your attention away from your partner and how
he or she tends to communicate for the moment.
Take the position of an observer and think about how you
tend to act and react when talk gets tense between the two
Set aside any desires you might have to assign
blame-- to your partner or yourself-- for how you see your
situation and just pay attention to your usual tendencies.
Sandi realizes that when she and Matt start talking about a
tricky topic, she gets tense and becomes defensive quickly.
She often expects Matt to accuse her of breaking some rule
or betraying him in some way. She then tends to feel guilty
and, next, angry and frustrated for feeling
When Sandi remembers their argument last night,
she clearly sees how rapidly she moved into defensiveness
and anger even before Matt lashed out at her.
This realization was quite eye-opening to Sandi! She now has
a wider view of their communication habits and can take
steps toward changing her expectations as well as working on
ways to calm down when triggered.
What can you appreciate about your mate?
It might be the grating and abrasive tone in your mate's
voice when he or she is angry. Or it may be the hunching
shoulders and downcast eyes when he or she shuts down.
Sometimes those tendencies in our partner that drive us nuts
are all we can see.
Instead, practice finding aspects about your partner that
you appreciate. You might start out by trying this when you
When you can easily make a mental list of things
you appreciate about your mate, recall a recent argument or
Can you remember anything at all that your partner said or
did that was helpful to the
It could be something very subtle or seemingly
insignificant-- even a gentle touch in the midst of it all.
Fill yourself with the feeling of appreciation for this
memory and for your partner. As you practice this more and
more, you can widen your scope and begin to shift your
Sandi tries this exercise and recalls the way Matt seemed to
struggle with his feelings during the argument.
Matt did say
hurtful words that really stung Sandi, but he started out by
saying that he wanted to reach a resolution to this
difficult issue peacefully and lovingly.
While Sandi still feels unhappy about the words Matt chose,
she feel a glimmer of hope that he intended for the
conversation to be different
than it was.
With this acknowledgment and glimmer of hope, Sandi can
appreciate. Of course she and Matt have much more work to
do, but it's now easier for her to form different
expectations for the next time they are communicating about
a tricky topic.
Perhaps they can create some specific agreements together
about what peaceful and loving communication might look like
We don't recommend that you avoid or ignore communication
habits that are taking you and your partner further apart.
At the same time, we encourage you to acknowledge the whole
picture-- including the role you play in the communication
dynamics and even the glimmers of hope that you might not be
Expanding your view in this way might feel uncomfortable.
But, when you set aside the need to blame or be right, with
a sense of love and forgiveness, the results can be
You might just find yourself and your mate working together
moving toward a closer and more