The Type Of Communication That's Disastrous For Your Relationship

Are you making a mess of a good thing?

serious couple looking at one another Baranq / shutterstock

There are many models of couples therapy today, but one thing that they have in common is the advice to eliminate negativity and criticism and improve your communication skills.

Does your lover do things that bother you? Maybe he comes home late without calling. Or perhaps she leaves the cabinet doors open.

You might not like the way he talks to the kids or how she spends hours on social media.

Maybe you’re annoyed about money, sex, or your mother-in-law's interference.


If you’re like most of us, these behaviors may leave you feeling annoyed, angry, frustrated, hurt, or disappointed.

You feel the need to criticize but know that you shouldn't.

So, how can you express your frustrations without starting a fight and making things worse?

RELATED: 30 Unsexy Communication Habits That Make A Relationship Work

When disagreements escalate to toxic negativity

We’ve all found ourselves embroiled in a heated argument over something that started out as rather small.


Things just seem to escalate quickly as soon as we start with negativity.

In his research, Dr. John Gottman found that there are four types of communication that spell disaster for your relationship.

One of these is criticism.

When we attack our partner, we invite defensiveness.

Along with stonewalling and contempt, defensiveness is another indicator of relationship distress.

Criticism and defensiveness lead to reactivity: shutting down or blowing up.

Now, we’re fighting about the fight and the original issue remains unresolved.

RELATED: The Common Behavior That's The Biggest Predictor Of Divorce

Find the zone of Zero Negativity

In Imago Relationship Theory, Dr. Harville Hendrix says that couples must enter the zone of Zero Negativity.


This means that they must learn how to communicate effectively — and responsibly — their negative feelings.

Instead of criticizing and attacking, there is a formula for expressing complaints in a way that doesn’t destroy the basic emotional connection.

He tells us that it’s important to pay attention to timing. Rather than launching in when our partner isn’t ready, it works better to say, "There’s something I’d like to tell you. Is now a good time for you?"

It rarely goes well if your partner is hungry, busy, in a hurry or distracted.

If now is not a good time, it helps to set up an appointment for a better time when you’ll have his full attention.


Let’s take the example of the guy who comes home late without calling.

Instead of "Why didn’t you call? You never call. You’re so inconsiderate", try: "When you are late and don’t call to let me know, I worry and feel disrespected. Would you be willing to call me in the future?"

In this example, I’m taking responsibility for my feelings and inviting my partner to understand me better. No need for him to get defensive at all.

RELATED: The 4 C's Of Couple Power That Can Shift Any Relationship Into Overdrive

Help them see your point of view

By asking directly for what I want in a vulnerable way, I’m helping him to have empathy and compassion for my distress.


I’m also far more likely to get what I need from him. Of all the beautiful qualities your partner may possess, mind-reading isn’t one of them!

As obvious as it may seem, he probably hasn’t considered his impact on your feelings.

Both members of a relationship are 100 percent responsible for the quality of their relationship.


That means that each of us must pay attention to speaking in loving, kind ways.

It does not mean that we can never experience negative emotions. It’s more about the commitment to keep each other emotionally safe so that we can feel connected and work through difficulties as a team.

RELATED: The Real Reason You Constantly 'Walk On Eggshells' Around Your Partner

Conflict is growth trying to happen

Did you know that when conflict happens in your relationship, it's growth trying to happen?

Each time we successfully negotiate a disagreement or negative feelings with our partner, we are deepening our emotional connection and nurturing our loving feelings for one another.


Couples who invest in learning and practicing effective communication tools become, in the words of Dr. Gottman, the Masters and not the Disasters of Marriage!

RELATED: The Mental Trick That Can Immediately Stop You From Picking Fights With People You Love

Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California.