Trying to communicate effectively with your partner is a noble cause. Still, many couples end up having avoidable relationship problems even when their hearts are in the right place. These communication mistakes in relationships are easy to fall into, and can destroy your connection with your partner if you aren't careful. Luckily, relationship experts have learned to identify them.
Of all the issues you may have in a relationship, messing up communication is one of the most serious. "When you can’t communicate with your partner, you are opening the door to misunderstandings and creating distance," board-certified psychiatrist and dating and relationship coach Dr. Susan Edelman tells Bustle. "When you can express yourself to your partner in a constructive way, it often brings you closer together. You’re not likely to feel understood if you can’t tell your partner how you feel." But if these problems start to get in the way, they can really break your connection down.
"Relationship mistakes are common with couples and aren’t necessarily fatal, but chronic problems communicating can take a serious toll on your relationship," Dr. Edelman says. In a long-term relationship, communication will never not be something you have to deal with. "A relationship by its very nature is about communication, because it involves two people trying to go through life united socially, and in many cases, financially and legally," David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "For this to work at any level, good communication is essential." So it's best not to let these problems get in your way.
Here are 12 communication mistakes that can break down the connection in your relationship, according to experts.
Apologizing Too Much
Apologizing after every argument or conflict may seem like a safe bet, but it can actually become quite an issue in your relationship. "While the opposite is a communication mistake too (never apologizing), some people apologize for everything," Bennett says. "This can create serious boundary issues if you are always the one apologizing, even if you didn’t really do anything wrong. Many people will apologize simply to get their partner off their backs, or to stop being screamed at. However, this ultimately communicates to your partner that they can act horribly to you and you'll be the one who apologizes." This kind of behavior will also keep things from being entirely truthful in the relationship. So if you find yourself tending towards over-apology, take note.
The Silent Treatment
While it may seem obvious that an adult relationship shouldn't involve the same communication techniques you used on the playground in third grade, relationship experts want you to know how dangerous the silent treatment really is.
"It may seem like a good idea at the time, to withdraw from a discussion and just simply stop engaging your partner, whether to 'punish' them or simply just get away," Bennett says. "However, research shows using this 'treatment' is hardly therapeutic, and negatively impacts relationships." So talk to your partner, even when it's hard. It's worth it to avoid any serious issues down the line.
Speaking In Absolutes
This specific communication issue is one of the most commonly-referenced among experts. So avoid saying things like "you always" or "you never" to your partner at all costs. "Speaking in superlatives is always a nonstarter," love and life coach Veronica Grant tells Bustle. "Rarely is anything absolutely true ... And when one person is feeling attacked, it's impossible to have an actual conversation." To avoid this, even when you're upset, you can use "I" statements and give concrete examples.
Dr. Edelman suggests focusing on the feelings you're experiencing, rather than the things you think your partner is doing wrong. "You might say, 'You never help around the house' or 'You’re always telling me what to do,'" Dr. Edelman says, “... [Instead say] I feel alone with all the housework around here. I’d really appreciate it if it felt more like we were partners in getting things done.” This way, you can avoid sabotaging your relationship by making sure no one feels attacked.
"Shoulds" And "Shouldn'ts"
Even though you really might feel that your partner is behaving or reacting improperly, it's vital that you never tell them how to feel. You wouldn't want someone to do the same to you.
"Any communication around invalidating your partner's feelings is also a non-starter," Grant says. "People's perceptions of what did or didn't happen or intentions can be debatable. But how actions (or lack thereof) affect someone's emotions are never debatable. In fact, I'd argue that a relationship where this is a consistent pattern of invalidating a partner's feelings is definitely manipulative, and potentially emotionally abusive." So don't jump to these sorts of statements, even when you're the most upset. This way things can stay less aggressive, and more loving — as much as possible, at least.
It's natural to expect certain behavior from your loved one, but making assumptions and then sharing them can become really detrimental. "Assumptions are the death of any relationship," Grant says, "... In a relationship, it's vital to understand that your rules or expectations in a relationship aren't universal and need to be communicated to your partner. It can help each partner get what they want [or] need from the relationship and can create an incredibly fulfilling, satisfying relationship." This means proactively talking about relationship boundaries and expectations before they become a problem. You won't have to assume anything if everything has already been discussed.
Not Asking For What You Need
When you're in a relationship with someone, they can't read your mind. This means that not asking for what you need can become a major roadblock to a healthy connection.
"When it comes to what you want out of a relationship, there are many reasons you may not want to be completely honest and even hypocritical at times. However, this can become the source of a lot of misunderstanding," Rabbi Mark Wildes, relationship expert, couples counselor, and author of Beyond the Instant tells Bustle. "Let's say you don't want to have sex before you're in a committed relationship, but you actively neglect to tell your partner when they ask you what you're looking for, they might unknowingly put a lot of pressure on you." This sort of uncomfortable situation can occur at all stages of a relationship if you aren't open about your needs. There's no way to be on the same page if you aren't being honest.
Not Bringing Up An Issue Before It Becomes A Bigger Problem
If you've developed a pet peeve, or something in the relationship is bothering you, it's vital that you bring it up sooner rather than later.
"Next time you have a problem with [them] skipping out on date night, or when [they] won't text you back for hours at a time, bring it up to them after you've had time to dig deep inside and find out the reason why it's bugging you," Rabbi Wildes says. "Maybe you were hurt in a previous relationship. Maybe you feel like you're being put second. Bringing up larger themes will help your partner understand and connect with you on a deeper level." Plus, it'll help you avoid bigger problems like screaming matches and silent treatments down the line.
Showing Disinterest In Their Ideas
If you can't find a way to communicate support for your loved one and their ideas, your relationship can fizzle.
"One damaging action many take is [showing] contempt toward the other person and their ideas," Thomas R. Harris, owner of Radiant Hope, LLC, tells Bustle. "They belittle them. The put them down. They treat the other person’s viewpoint and feelings as unimportant. And that can be deadly to a relationship over time." So even if your partner's dreams seem a bit out of reach, keep in touch with the part of that dream that relates to why you fell for them in the first place. And if their ideas are really making it obvious that you two aren't a good match, that's fine too; it's better than staying around and pushing them down.
Simply Not Listening
It may sound obvious, but you should listen to your partner. Even when they annoy you.
"All too often, arguments turn into a competition of who can win versus working together as a team to understand the situation and solve or manage the problem," Harris says. "Other times, they are so quick to defend themselves that they never actually listen to the issue. If partners would take the time to listen and try to understand the other person’s viewpoint, they would be able to solve or manage whatever issues come their way much easier." So allow yourself to feel angry or sad, but also work on listening. Not doing so is a very sure way to sabotage things between the two of you.
Bringing Up Issues At The Wrong Time
While openness and honesty are the cornerstones of healthy relationships, you have to know when and where to talk about your issues. There are simply some times and places that are not appropriate for these types of conversations.
"[Try not to] bring up issues at the wrong time," Harris says. "When one of you is angry, stressed, tired, or hungry, that is usually not a good time to bring up an issue that could cause an argument." Wait until a more calm moment, and then open up about what's bothering you. That way, you can avoid a heightened energy during the conflict.
Not Accepting Repair Attempts
It may seem confusing to try to show or accept signs of affection during conflict, but relationship experts advise that you really should. "[Try] to give and accept repair attempts," Carrie Krawiec, licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) at Birmingham Maple Clinic tells Bustle. "That is, if communication is going poorly and someone attempts to lighten the mood with flirtation or humor, don’t get angrier assuming the person isn’t talking you seriously instead use the moment to cool and calm yourself and each other and try discussing again in a more connected way." It may seem overwhelming to try to crack a joke or a smile in conflict, but it's a really health way of showing your love.
In the end, very few communication mistakes are unfixable. "Saying 'I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better' with sincerity is always the simplest and most direct way to begin repairing a relationship with poor communication," Rabbi Wildes says. The key is just actually trying to do better as well.
"The fact is that we all make mistakes. Every couple is going to make a lot of mistakes," Harris says. "As long as a couple learns to discuss the issues constructively, be quick to forgive, and learn from those mistakes, they will keep growing in their relationship." So even if you've started on a path of sabotage, if you are honest about it and are willing to readjust, it's quite possible to get back on track.