By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator
Watch Clay discuss this topic on Fox43’s WTNX morning show WTNZ.
Some communication problems are obvious, like name-calling, yelling, or refusing to talk altogether. But other more subtle tactics often hamper our conversations more than we realize. None of us communicate perfectly, but with attention we can improve this critical relationship skill. The following pitfalls have a way or hiding from our own attention, causing damage then leaving us feeling confused as to where we went wrong.
1) Contaminating praise: It’s possible to negate a compliment by adding things like “but” or “if only.” For example, something like “It’s go great you took out the trash honey. Now if only you wouldn’t let it pile sky high next time!” This may stem from a sense that giving our partner too much praise might cause them to get over confident and stop doing what we’ve just appreciated so much. In fact, the opposite tends to be true! Praising our partner is a powerful way to reinforce that the things we’d like to see more of, but contaminated praise is sapped of it’s power.
2) Hostile humor: This isn’t mutual, good-natured teasing. Instead, passive-aggressive, often sarcastic, attacks are masked with a thin veneer of humor. This can be used a crutch to bring up difficult subjects that might otherwise leave us feeling vulnerable. Other times, we may tease our partner without the intention of being hurtful while not realizing how personally our partner may take the joke. Regardless of the intention or form, the common thread with this type of humor is it’s invalidating effects. The result is an erosion of emotion safety between partners.
3) Premature problem solving: Our partner comes to us with a problem or an emotion and immediately, we go into fix-it mode. We think we’re being helpful, but in reality we’re frustrating our partner and not meeting their emotional needs. The issue isn’t so much whether the suggestions are good or not. Instead, this is usually a issue of timing. Often, what’s needed more than anything is simple, attentive listening. Problem solving can come later when we’re invited to do so. If you’re not sure whether your partner needs problem-solving or just listening , the surest way to find out is to ask.
4) Over-agreeability: This is a twist on more obvious forms of withdrawal, like completely leaving the room or refusing to speak altogether. While giving up and simply agreeing with our partner might seem like a generous thing to do, agreeing in bad faith just to end an argument causes damage in it’s own way. While it may tamp down tensions for the moment, resentment is likely to build as one person goes along against their wishes and the other feels shut out by their partner. It robs both you and your partner of the possibility of meaningful conversation, and mutual understanding.