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Hilber Psychological Services

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Healthy Communication Styles, Part 2

For the past few entries,The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 1 andThe Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 2 we have been discussing unhealthy communication styles. Our last entry, Healthy Communication Styles, Part 1, discussed ways to combat Dr. Gottman’s research on problematic communication. Today we will continue to discuss how to turn unhealthy styles of communication to healthy styles based on Dr. Gottman’s research.

  • Defensiveness: Seeing yourself as a victim, and therefore, using various communication strategies to dismiss your partner, who you view as an attacker.
    • While it may be easy to blame your partner for issues in the relationship, it is not beneficial to do so. Blaming and attacking your partner is likely to make your partner more defensive, creating a cycle as both you and your partner's argument escalates due to hurt feelings. Rather than viewing your partner as a threat, Dr. Gottman suggests the importance of taking responsibility for the role you yourself play in your relationship and in unhealthy communication patterns. Examples: Instead of saying, “It’s your fault we got lost,” state how you contributed to the situation. “I am frustrated that we are lost. I acknowledge that I was reading the map wrong. Maybe we could pull over and figure this out together?”
  • Stonewalling: You or your partner physically or mentally “check-out” of a conversation in order to avoid an argument.
    • Rather than dismissing your partner for the sake of avoiding an argument, Dr. Gottman suggests engaging in psychological self-soothing. This can be done in a variety of different ways. Often times, individuals can feel overwhelmed at the possibility of an argument. Hence, avoiding it seems like a better option. However, this can cause a lot of pain in your relationship. Some researchers suggest that stonewalling is the most unhealthy way to handle conflict in a relationship, and can be the most damaging to a relationship. As such, it is vital to find alternative methods if you find yourself stonewalling in a relationship.  Examples: Instead of walking away or changing the subject, you may want to take a few deep breaths to calm down your system. You could also inform your partner that you need a second to yourself. “I feel overwhelmed and hurt right now. I want to talk to you but I cannot do that right now. I need 5 minutes to do some deep breathing exercises.” If you determine that you would like to take a break, it is important to specify the amount of time you would like and to have the conversation once the amount of time is over.

It’s important to acknowledge that you cannot change your partner, or how he or she responds in conflict. However, you can change your own responses. Ideally, small changes in communication create a ripple effect. Imagine a body of water. One additional drop of water causes the ripple effect to take place, no matter the size of the source. Communication is like that one drop - one small change in how you communicate with your partner can positively affect the rest of the water, or the rest of your relationship.

Remember, changing behavioral and communicative patterns take time, and it does not happen overnight. If you feel that your relationship with your partner is struggling, it may be helpful to consider seeking couples therapy. If you would like to discuss therapy options, please contact us to set up an appointment. If you have any general questions, you can visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.