Reducing miscommunications affecting your relationship
February means Valentine’s Day, which means heart-shaped candies, flowers, and chocolates. On a more fundamental level though, it is an opportunity to intentionally prioritize your romantic relationships. No matter the strength of a couple, we are always able to improve upon the foundation.
To help you improve your communication, we will be outlining 8 of the common miscommunications affecting your relationship. In addition, we will be outlining why these miscommunications can be popping up and simple ways to improve them in your day-to-day.
8 Common Miscommunications Affecting Your Relationship
Mindreading is a cognitive distortion, otherwise known as a ‘thought trap’. This thought trap involves making assumptions of what someone else is thinking with no legitimate evidence to back up this assumption1. Mindreading can be beneficial, at times, to understanding what someone is thinking based on both verbal and nonverbal cues. For instance, when someone rolls their eyes, we may assume that they are annoyed or agitated.
However, there are many situations where mindreading can be counterproductive. Imagine you are in a therapy session and you bring up your frustration with your partner for not taking out the trash. Your therapist recommends you communicate this to your partner and see if you can have a productive conversation about this. You respond by saying you already know what they are going to say, so it is not worth fighting about. Does this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone! We all do this at times, in an attempt to avoid confrontation, yet, it is preventing open communication. It is only fair to allow others to prove our distorted thoughts wrong.
When you find yourself falling into this thought trap, try challenging the thought. Ask yourself if that is fair to assume and question the circumstances where you have brought the problem up before. If you find that you have brought it up out of anger, during an argument, or in a passive-aggressive way, consider what way may be more productive.
Misunderstanding what your partner is saying:
One of the biggest issues in relationships as a whole is a misunderstanding. One of the greatest tools to combat miscommunication is utilizing reflective listening. It’s beneficial to implement this technique in tense conversations or when it feels like miscommunications can or are occurring. In this circumstance, you would ask your partner if you two could try reflective listening to make sure you are understanding each other. You would listen to what they are saying and then echo back to them in your own words what you believe they mean2.
This technique provides the opportunity for you to express the impression you are getting from what they are saying. In addition, it gives them the chance to correct any misinterpretations. It also allows you to communicate the way their tone and body language is coming off. The final reason this can be beneficial is it allows the speaker to feel like they are being heard. Rather than feeling their words are being lost or simply ignored, they can hear you speak the words back. This, in turn, shows your attentive listening.
Bringing up concerns at the wrong time:
Have you ever had someone bring up a problem they are having with you at the worst possible time? Maybe this is at the end of an atrocious day of work. It could be when you are just about to head to bed. This could be on a day you are just feeling down on yourself as a whole. Timing truly can be the key to difficult conversations, considering the mindset that may be necessary to have an open mind. Whether it is due to getting defensive, feeling on edge, or simply not being in the right headspace to speak rationally, we should always make sure that both people are ready to have a serious discussion.
There is a simple, yet easily overlooked, way to prevent this from happening. When we have something we want to discuss that is a more serious matter, we can ask the other person if it is a good time to talk. While it may be difficult to remember to do at first, the more you start to prompt tough conversations with these check-ins, the more natural it will feel. If you ask your partner if it is a good time to talk and they say it is not, you then would want to agree upon a better time to talk. This way you will have a plan in place and will not be left waiting to bring the concerns up indefinitely.
Whether we mean to or not, most of us use absolutes at times. These are exaggerations using words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘every time’, etc. When we use absolutes, it is implying that there is 100% consistency in what we are discussing. For instance, you might say ‘you never do the dishes’, to your significant other. This can be viewed as hurtful or frustrating, as most of the time absolutes are not accurate. If you recognize that this is something you are doing, question if that is fair to say. Has your partner truly never, not once, done the dishes? Chances are this statement is an exaggeration.
These absolutes can end up in arguments regarding the accuracy of the statement, as well as making the partner feel attacked. Rather than using these absolutes, it is beneficial to try using ‘I’ statements. For instance, stating ‘I feel overwhelmed with the housework and it would help me if you were able to assist with more of it.’ This expresses what you are feeling, why you are feeling it, and how your partner can help. Rather than your partner feeling attacked, it can help them to see what you are experiencing and the solution3.
Should/Should Not Statements:
We all have ideas of the way things ‘should’ be done. However, no one wants to be told how to do something. When we put a should statement out there, we are placing our expectations on other people, as well as expecting others to think the same way that we do. This can make others feel invalidated or unintelligent. For instance, if someone tells you that you should not feel offended, it is invalidating what they do feel. In addition, if someone tells you that you should or should not do things a certain way, it can feel belittling4.
Avoiding problems:No couple is going to be on cloud nine with one another at all times. We all find things our significant others do that bother us, such as leaving dishes in the sink, not locking the door, making plans without telling us, etc. Of course, there are certain things that we brush off, hence the saying, “pick your battles.” Yet, with things that repeatedly bother us, addressing the issue early on can prevent a larger argument.For instance, if your partner is constantly making jokes at your expense, it may start to bother you. It is important to address the concern, rather than letting this build-up. If you put it off, you may get angry enough to blow up at them in front of others. You also may begin to resent their jokes over time. While addressing it, you may want to keep in mind the previous points from this article. For example, before addressing the concern, you may want to ask if it is an okay time to discuss something, use ‘I’ statements, and avoid absolutes, as well as should/should not statements5.
Listening may seem like an obvious thing to do in a relationship, yet, at times we all do more talking than listening. While working on being a better partner, pay attention to how well you listen to your loved one. Are you often forgetting about the story they told you regarding what happened at work or swearing they never told you about plans? If so, maybe you are not actively listening to your partner. Whether it is due to distractions or zoning out during conversations, ask yourself what is preventing you from listening during these conversations.
Another time that you want to ask yourself how well you are listening, is during serious discussions or arguments. When feeling defensive and on edge, it is common to focus more on what you are saying as opposed to what they are saying to you6. When we focus on what we plan to say next, we are not fully paying attention to what is being said at the moment. This can create a ‘you vs. me’ mentality, rather than us versus the problem. When we take time to hear out our partner, it can help us to find our common ground.
Constantly bringing up the past:
It is okay for us to need, at times, to bring up a problem from the past. For instance, imagine you have an argument, which leads to a conversation regarding what your partner will do differently in the future. It is understandable that if these changes are not happening, this may be brought up again in the future. There are times when the past needs to be addressed. However, when we are consistently bringing up the past, it does not allow for changes in the present or future.
It is also important to recognize that change does not happen overnight. Imagine you have a conversation regarding something your partner is going to work on. It is not reasonable to expect that everything will be different the following day. It can be helpful to have a way to gently remind each other of these changes. Being able to have a system can allow for this to be done without coming off as judgmental or pushy. Change can be difficult at times, but partners can kindly help one another remember these changes in a helpful way.
Finding Help for Miscommunications Affecting your Relationship
If you are looking for a therapist to discuss ways to better your relationship and communication, our therapists through Online-Therapy.com provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
We have a variety of therapists who would love to help you with mental health concerns. Our platform offers a complete online therapy toolbox. Our site has multiple options, which involve time with a personal therapist who can support you throughout your journey. If this is something you have an interest in, we would love to hear from you.
Grant, E. (2018, July 19). 12 Communication Mistakes to Avoid if you Want to Stay Connected to your Partner. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/12-communication-mistakes-in-your-relationship-that-are-sabotaging-your-connection-9793880
Kats, N., & McNulty, K. (1994). Reflective Listening. https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/docs/default-source/ektron-files/reflective-listening-nk.pdf?sfvrsn=f1fa6672_5#:~:text=Reflective%20listening%20is%20a%20special,is%20being%20heard%20and%20understood.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles. (2020). Cognitive Distortions: Mind Reading. https://cogbtherapy.com/cbt-blog/common-cognitive-distortions-mind-reading
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