If You Communicate In These 3 Harmful Ways, Expect Divorce

Lean in and move toward rather than away from your partner.

Husband aggressively arguing with spouse Vitaly Gariev | Unsplash

Unresolved conflict in relationships can create negative patterns of communication, which become a loop or a dance. Once in the dance, couples find it difficult to extricate themselves from these patterns.

If you communicate in these 3 harmful ways, expect divorce:

1. You demand/protest and your partner withdraws

Demand-withdrawal or criticize-withdrawal is the most widespread and destructive in relationships. This pattern occurs when a partner has a reaction or a protest against a loss of connection and safety, which is something we all need in a relationship.


The Protest Polka is all about trying to get a response, a response that will connect and reassure. One partner reaches out, though in a negative way, and the other steps back. This pattern repeats.

The Protest Polka has also been described as the distancer/pursuer interaction. One partner pursues, while the other distances. The more one pursues to lessen the distance and the disconnect, the more the other partner distances in the relationship.

It becomes a vicious cycle. However, the more they retreat, the more the person demands. The pursuer may become more critical and the other person withdraws even more. Unfortunately, many couples who fall into this pattern early in marriage, do not make it to their fifth anniversary while others are mired in it indefinitely, according to research by John Gottman.


Solution: Recognize how the dance between you and your partner started and what it says about your relationship. Start to recognize patterns. Look at the process of communication within the relationship, not the content or the topic.

Examine and recognize when moments of disconnection occur and start to slow down the "spin cycle" for closer examination. Create safety in the relationship so emotions and feelings of attachment or disconnect can be discussed.

He tries to comfort her without communicating in a harmful way PeopleImages.com - Yuri A via Shutterstock


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2. You constantly find fault

The main purpose of this interaction is self-protection. As long as we find fault with our partner, we will not have to take responsibility for our role — "It's not me, it's you".

Finger-pointing, accusation, or blame is prevalent. This is a dead-end pattern of mutual blame that effectively keeps a couple of miles apart and blocks re-engagement for the couple to move towards rather than away from one another.

It also prevents the couple from feeling safe and thus creates a "dance". The start of this interaction or "dance" is when a partner feels hurt or vulnerable, they suddenly become out of control because their emotional safety is lost or jeopardized. To get control back, they shine a negative light on their partner.


Solution: Ask questions such as: "Maybe we can talk about what happened?" "Can we have a conversation about how we are each feeling about something without it being anyone’s fault?"

Having each person learn to look at themselves objectively and take their share of responsibility helps stop this negative interaction style.

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3. You freeze, then leave

This is also referred to as Withdraw-Withdraw. This type of interaction often occurs after a couple has exhausted the Protest Polka feels hopeless over their situation and begins to give up.

Both partners are shut down and put their feelings in the "deep freeze", leaving only numbness and distancing. Both partners start to sit out of the relationship. This is the most dangerous of all.

When the pursuing critical partner gives up trying to get their partner's attention, they go silent. If it continues, the aggressive partner will grieve the relationship and will detach and leave. There is no emotion left — positive or negative.

Ultimately, no one is invested in the relationship. No one will extend the olive branch. No one will take any risks. This interaction is a response to the loss of connection and the sense of helplessness concerning how to restore it.


Solution: Share with your partner when there's a cue or a trigger that ignited the distancing. What are some of the things that you say to yourself once you've emotionally withdrawn to justify the separation or discourage you from reaching out to your partner?

Can you begin to share some of your vulnerabilities with your partner or at least spark a conversation that helps your partner understand where you learned to ignore and discount your needs and feelings?

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For distressed couples and couples who are unable to recover even small slights, these will become habitual responses. Even the smallest slights become bigger and are later never recovered.

These patterns of interaction are fostered due to one or both partners' limitations in effective communication skills, as well as being able to understand, identify, own, and express their feelings — predominantly fear and vulnerability.

There's a fear that the relationship will not work out. They fear their partner will not be available and have their back, fear that they will not feel safe in their relationship and that their haven is being jeopardized.

This makes people feel equally vulnerable.


Couple discusses relationship without harmful communication Mavo via Shutterstock

Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, shares her invaluable insight into these negative, circular interactions and patterns of communication that keep couples stuck.

She identifies three types of "Demon Dialogues" that create negative patterns of communication and roadblocks to having a healthy relationship. These "Demon Dialogues" occur when couples are unable to safely connect with their partner.


These toxic patterns become "ingrained and permanent, and undermine the relationship, blocking all attempts at repair and reconnection."

Ongoing and unresolved conflict results in the relationship bearing the ultimate burden — they become progressively worse.

Can you identify yourself in any of these patterns? If so, what will you do to change your communication interactions with your partner to improve your relationship, bridge the gap, and become more emotionally invested to have a healthier relationship?

How will you start to lean in and move towards, rather than away, from your partner?

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Dr. Kristin Davin is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in marriage, divorce, dating, and relationships. She helps people build better relationships, whether it’s with their spouse, partner, children, siblings, parents, coworkers, or friends.