The best couples communicate with one another, and they do so often and effectively. What is bad communication in a relationship? It’s really just a collection of bad communication habits. When you have a lot of bad communication habits in a relationship, any seemingly benign topic can turn into a fight. If you’re looking to have clear communication with your partner, check out these tell-tale signs of bad communication in a relationship. When you know what to keep on the lookout for when you’re chatting, you’ll learn how to deal with a bad communicator in a relationship.
Anger is a valid feeling that tells you critical information. Our anger works to let us know what we need and gives us the energy to make sure that we address those needs. While it can be really functional for our own self-reflection, it is a sign of bad communication in a relationship if you bring it to your conversations with one another.
If your partner is verbally attacking you, you don’t need to stick around. Nothing good comes from letting someone who can’t regulate their feelings yell at you. They might also have a pinched face, talk fast, or have aggressive and quick movements. If you see those types of behavior, it would be a good chance to wait before connecting.
Anger can also sneak up on us. While it’s easy to see some of the signs of bad communication in a relationship in others, sometimes they’re harder to notice in ourselves. Anger internally can feel like a rapid heartbeat or tension in the head. Anger makes it challenging to listen. If you’re interacting with your partner and you can’t hear their words without being disgusted or annoyed, odds are you’re not in a good place to talk.
Once you notice the signs of bad communication, you can fix them. If you or your partner are showing behaviors that show anger, it’s a great time to just take a break. It’s ok to take space from your partner. It may feel uncomfortable leaving an argument festering, but if you and your partner both use that time to regulate, it actually can really help in the long run. While you’re regulating, find an activity to get out some of your angry energy. Go for a power walk, hit the gym, or call a friend to rant. When that angry energy gets released, you’ll be better able to handle communication in the future.
Blame is when we attempt to hold others accountable for their actions and words. In an argument, passing blame back and forth is a sign of bad communication. The ironic part about blame is that while it seeks to hold others accountable, it’s actually a really ineffective way of getting anyone to hold themselves accountable. People like being in charge of their own experience and taking accountability for what they want to.
If your partner hears your feelings and can only respond to how they’re you’re at fault for having them; odds are they are participating in some blaming behavior. Look for signs of bad communication like speaking fast, interrupting, or literally pointing fingers.
In ourselves, blame can feel like a necessary way to defend ourselves from our partner’s feelings or experiences. When our partner is sharing their feelings about an issue, and we feel the need to correct their experience or stop them from clarifying, odds are we may be trying to project our own blame.
The good news is there’s a very easy way to handle blame, and it’s just to take responsibility. In partnerships where people are taking frequent responsibility for their actions and feelings, communication goes much smoother. Think about what you can take responsibility for in any given situation, and clearly share all of your potential missteps with your partner. Listen to them to see if there were any missteps you missed. By modeling taking responsibility, your partner will be more likely to as well. If they’re still struggling, simply get concrete and specific. “Hey, I’m hearing a lot of blame. Can you take some responsibility here instead?” is a polite request that could help you both get back on the same team.
Defensiveness is one of the classic signs of bad communication in a relationship. Frequently people who use defensiveness as a skill in communicating are doing so because they’ve gotten hurt before and not received the repair they needed for that prior hurt. In a way, it’s our body’s way of protecting ourselves from the hurt we’ve experienced before.
In your partner, defensiveness may look like passive-aggressive statements or quick but quiet remarks. Defensiveness uses these small forms of anger as a sort of armor to help them feel safe from potentially “losing” the argument.
In ourselves, defensiveness feels scary. We may have all the typical internal feelings that fear normally causes- rapid heartbeat, inability to make eye contact, or even the nausea of disgust. At its core, defensiveness is one of fear’s best strategies to help us stay safe from being hurt again.
The solution to this one of the signs of bad communication in a relationship? Frequent forgiveness for yourself and others is the way out of this one. If we let hurts accrue, we’re more likely to be defensive. Think of your partner with the same grace. Their defensiveness is trying to keep them safe because they have some unaddressed hurts. The more we can forgive one another and forgive ourselves for how we may have misstepped in the past, the more we can really hear with empathy and love.
Disengagement is when someone involved in the argument is, well, not involved in the argument. When people disengage, they may zone out or avoid conflict as much as possible. And while avoiding conflict sounds like it could be a good thing, it’s actually one of the biggest signs of bad communication in a relationship.
In your partner, you may see them not responding for long periods of time, avoiding your calls/texts, or glazed eyes when you are trying to connect. In their minds, they think your emotional response is too much to figure out or handle, so they try to ignore it as much as possible. If they’re doing anything that makes you want to go, “Are you even listening to me?” then odds are they’re disengaged.
In ourselves, disengagement feels slow. Remember, bad communication habits in a relationship are frequently just ways we’re trying to protect ourselves. If a partner expressing their feelings feels overwhelming or confusing, odds are we may be partaking in disengagement behaviors. You may have the urge to check your phone or look at the time while the other is talking. You may struggle to make eye contact.
While disengagement is one of the signs of bad communication in a relationship, it’s also an easy fix. Sometimes our conflict resolution skills just need work for us to learn that we CAN handle one another’s uncomfortable feelings. While you’re building your skills, take breaks when you notice either one of you is disengaged. Consider using text or email as easier ways to stay more engaged in the conversation.
Hopefully, this guide helps you figure out what is bad communication in a relationship and some easy ways to fix it both in yourself and your partner. Remember that how to deal with a bad communicator in a relationship requires you and your partner to work together to fix the issue. And it is possible to work on all these issues and create the relationship you want and deserve; it just takes time, effort, and the desire to change for the better. As always- you got this!