In both individual and couples counseling we address the types of toxic communication that may be hurting your relationships, along with healthier ways of talking and fighting fairly. If you struggle with feeling heard or understood, if your conflicts tend to spin out of control and get off topic, or if issues escalate and remain unresolved, communication counseling can help. Some communication styles that are proven ineffective, even damaging include:
The most common communication threat for couples that emerges is criticism. Frustrations, annoyances and resentment inevitably build up when couples live together day in and day out. It’s important to distinguish between criticism and complaining, because some minor complaining is part of any relationship. The problem arises when complaints turn into criticisms. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person, and is often laced with sarcasm. These types of statements are personal attacks, and are loaded with blame and accusation. Learning to express your needs and frustrations without attacking, judging, or criticizing is part of communication counseling.
Contemptuous words have no place in any loving or caring relationship. They are used to humiliate or wound (whether consciously or not). They are toxic and can be considered a form of verbal abuse. Contempt includes name-calling, hostility and aggressive sarcasm. Contempt is like poison to a relationship, as it eventually destroys the intimacy, emotional safety, sense of security, and mutual respect there once may have been. It can leave one or both partners feeling belittled and unloved. Learning the skills to communicate safely with respect even when you disagree or are unhappy, is essential.
Defensive reactions can become an unconscious reflex when contempt and criticism exist. Defensiveness is a way to protect yourself from feeling attacked, disrespected, or verbally abused. However, it is still extremely destructive. It builds walls between partners because it spirals the conflict around in circles, and issues are left unresolved. Speaking less defensively involves setting appropriate language boundaries with your partner, learning how to feel secure in receiving constructive criticism while differentiating between destrutive criticism, and utilizing effective listening methods that leave you feeling safe and your partner feeling heard during a conflict.
Stonewalling is about shutting down from aggressive communication. It is about giving up or withdrawing emotionally. But it also closes the door to resolution. Stonewallers often withdraw when they feel overwhelmed with their emotions, or as a way of protecting themselves from hurtful or stressful conflicts. It typically sends a message of distance and disapproval to their partners. Couples therapy helps to communicate less passively, less aggressively, and in ways that feel safer to both. Alternatives to stonewalling and shutting down, when you are feeling frustrated, confused, or overwhelmed by a conflict, are part of the communication tools you will gain in counseling.