8 Tiny Signs Of Unhealthy Communication In A Marriage

8 Tiny Signs Of Unhealthy Communication In A Marriage

Unhealthy communication in a relationship spells unhappiness and a potential end between a couple in love. The joy of falling in love is usually rooted in the natural ease of communication with one another.

You have so much in common. You think so much alike. You resolve your disagreements seemingly before they happen. You say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” You listen, care, avoid judgment, and put one another first. But somewhere along the line, unhealthy communication started eating away at the relationship you created.

It’s insidious and doesn’t always have a clear beginning. But if you don’t wake up and recognize it, your relationship will have a clear end. If healthy communication is the glue that holds happy marriages together, then unhealthy communication can be the marriage’s unraveling. Think about people and things you hold in high esteem. An artist, a musician, an actor, a surgeon — they can all leave you in awe. But, why? What makes you revere, applaud, and respect one entity over another?

Chances are, it has something to do with how effortless the execution of quality seems. When you are in the presence of “masters,” you don’t have to analyze their performances. You can simply enjoy them. It’s the same with happy couples. Think of at least one couple that has been married on just this side of forever. What keeps them together? What is it they have that other couples don’t? How have they managed not to have unhealthy communication in their marriage?

Learning about the successful practices of those who have been married for over 50 years can be a good way to gauge your own success. What are they doing that seems so “easy” for them, and yet so difficult for you and your partner? Sometimes, unhealthy communication in marriage is about doing the opposite of the “right” thing. And sometimes it’s about simply not doing the “right” thing — or enough of it. It may come as a surprise that the mark of a happy marriage isn’t “having no issues” or even the ability to resolve all or most of your issues.

According to marriage researcher John Gottman, 69 percent of issues in a marriage don’t get resolved. Yes, those happy couples who have made it past their golden wedding anniversaries are sitting on a lot of unresolved stuff! What makes communication healthy and couples happy is how partners choose to respond to their issues — even the ones that don’t go away. The same is true for unhealthy communication.

Here are 8 tiny signs of unhealthy communication in a marriage:

1. Yelling

Anger is a natural emotion. But when it’s not kept in check and expressed responsibly, it can build up and eventually explode. When that happens, the content of the message is lost to the intensity of delivery. The person being yelled at doesn’t hear the hurt, frustration, or underlying fear of the other. They only hear and remember the loud, offensive assault with negativity. A primary goal of healthy communication is keeping your emotions under control so they don’t dominate your communication.

2. Blaming your spouse

Beginning statements with “you” is a slippery slope into blame. Words like “always” and “never” often follow. Before you know it, your spouse is playing defense. Shifting your language to “I” statements can automatically soften the mood and make both of you willing to own part of the problem. Always starting with a pointed finger and accusatory tone actually takes your power away and makes you a victim. Working on your self-awareness can help your relationship by helping you stay contained and accountable for your behavior.

3. Having a competitive attitude

If you struggle with insecurities, you may not even realize what you do in order not to feel them. You may shelter your feelings, refuse to be vulnerable, and even project your feelings onto your spouse. Instead of being about the union, your focus is on yourself and how you can feel good enough. And that usually comes out as an effort to always be right or superior. So much energy goes into being on top that you lose sight of the “we” that defines marriage in the first place.

4. Criticism

One of Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is criticism that bypasses a complaint about the situation and goes for the person. It’s close kin to blame as it often comes out as “you always” and “you never.” A complaint, on the other hand, acknowledges a personal feeling in response to a specific behavior. And it leaves space to negotiate a resolution.

5. Defensiveness

It’s only natural to defend yourself if you feel attacked and/or blamed. “You always” has a knee-jerk reaction of “No, I don’t!” or even a counter-blame. Those who use defensiveness regularly avoid taking responsibility for anything in the relationship.

6. Contempt

This terribly negative communication style exudes moral superiority and disdain in the form of sarcasm, mocking, and hurtful humor. It’s the worst of the Four Horsemen and the most dangerous form of unhealthy communication in marriage. It’s mean, demoralizing, devoid of empathy, emotionally dangerous — and the number one predictor of divorce.

7. Stonewalling

People who stonewall shut down for self-preservation when they are overwhelmed or flooded in an argument. They go silent, look away, or remove themselves from the attack. In the dance of contempt and stonewalling, all of the foundational essentials of a healthy marriage are lost. There is no trust, no emotional safety, no mutual respect, no kindness.

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