You just had another fight with your husband, and you don’t understand what happened. You were just talking about your plans for the weekend and before you knew it, you were yelling at each other. You don’t even know what you were fighting about. As you walk out the front door to grab a breather, you think, He doesn’t listen to me. We can’t even have a simple conversation anymore without yelling. I don’t think we’re going to make it.
You’re not alone. More than 90 percent of couples say that communication is their biggest challenge. However, communication problems are also one of the easiest challenges to overcome if both parties are willing to acknowledge and correct their mistakes. To get started, here are the 12 most common communication mistakes to avoid (and what to do instead):
1. Don’t start with an attack.
If you enter a conversation with criticism or an attack, you’ve already lost the battle. Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute refers to this as a “harsh start-up.” These will immediately cause defensiveness and anger.
Alternatively: When you have a complaint to air, try starting with a compliment or a thank you before criticizing your partner for not taking out the trash again.
2. Don’t play the blame game.
Blaming your spouse for an unwanted outcome or situation is a surefire way to shut down a conversation. In a marriage, each must take responsibility for his or her own actions.
Alternatively: Reflect on how your actions were part of the problem before putting all of the blame on your spouse.
3. Don’t wait for your turn to start talking.
Have you ever wished the person you’re talking to would end their sentence so you could say the very important thought in your own head? It’s common, but it also means you aren’t really listening to the person talking. And if you’re not listening, you’re not communicating.
Alternatively: Try to stop the voices in your head and just listen to the voice from your spouse.
4. Don’t worry about proving that you’re right.
Entering a conversation with the need to be right means you’ll inevitably hit a wall. The objective of great communication is to share a message and relay feelings, connect on a deeper level, and to come up with win-win solutions — not to be right.
Alternatively: Let go of that pursuit of vindication and concentrate on connecting and being understood by your partner.
5. Don’t stubbornly cling to one perspective.
When you can only see through one lens, you’re missing the whole picture.
Alternatively: When you’re able to look at a situation from your spouse’s perspective as well as your own, it allows you to create more solutions and provides you with a deeper understanding of your spouse.
6. Don’t throw spiderwebs.
Spiderwebbing is the graceful act of talking about things that are way off topic. For example, if you and your wife are talking about finances and then suddenly you’re fighting about how much your mother visits, you’ve been caught in a spiderweb.
Spiderwebbing is often used as a defense mechanism when discussing an issue that is threatening or uncomfortable. It’s sometimes used to turn the tables when one spouse feels backed into a corner.
Alternatively: Recognize spiderwebbing by noticing when the conversation is moving off topic and quickly bring the conversation back to the original topic until there is resolution.
7. Don’t assume your partner wants you to fix something.
It’s understandable that you want to find a solution to a problem quickly. However, people do not always want solutions; sometimes they just want an open ear. If you offer a solution or tell your spouse to “not worry” about something, then you are closing off communication. More importantly, you are discounting your spouse’s feelings, emotions, and ability to solve their own problems.
Alternatively: Listen without judgment, and don’t provide solutions unless you are asked for one.
8. Don’t try to push their buttons.
We’ve all done it. Your spouse upset you, and you want to show them how it feels. You subconsciously (or consciously) say or do something that you know will aggravate your spouse. Although it might seem satisfying in the moment, it just drives a wedge between the two of you.
Alternatively: Recognize areas that upset your spouse and try to avoid them.
9. Don’t dig at your partner.
A combination of the spiderweb and the button-push, the dig is a hurtful statement that is completely off topic. For example, if you’re talking about finances and your spouse says you overspend, you’ll come back with the well thought out, “Well, you’re too lazy to do the dishes.” It’s obvious that digs will ruin your communication, probably start a fight, and hurt your spouse.
Alternatively: Plain and simple, just don’t do it.
10. Don’t expect your partner to instinctively know what you need.
Your partner is probably not a mind reader and neither are you.
Alternatively: Avoid disappointment by being clear about your needs and also letting your spouse speak their needs and wants. If you want flowers for your birthday, ask for them. If you are feeling lonely, let your spouse know how they can help.
11. Don’t roll your eyes.
Eye-rolling, head-shaking, finger-pointing, etc., are not necessary to any conversation. They can turn a great conversation into a fight.
Alternatively: Pay attention to your nonverbal signs. Try leaning in, keeping eye contact, and affectionate touching to keep your body open to communication.
12. Don’t try to communicate effectively during moments of emotional catastrophe.
When your blood pressure is elevated and your emotions are high, your brain turns off. Continuing in a conversation when you’re overly emotional can be one of the worst mistakes for your relationship. High emotions lead to personal attacks and hurtful words.
Alternatively: Monitor your emotions, and if you are getting flooded or overwhelmed, call a time-out and take a breather.