Marriage Counseling: Communication

Everyone knows that when communication breaks down, relationships suffer. Psychologists have identified four communication styles that, when present, contribute to strain in a relationship by preventing a couple from identifying, talking about, and resolving issues when they crop up.

Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong:

Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …”

Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her:

Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip

Seeing yourself as the victim, withdrawing from or refusing to participate in the discussion, refusing to entertain the merit to your partner’s position.

Examples Include:

Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said
Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did this because you did that…”
Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.
Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.

Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness.

Stony silence
Changing the subject
Removing yourself physically
Giving your partner the “silent treatment”

When present, these unhealthy communication styles are disruptive to the relationship and can drive couples apart. Marriage counseling can help couples identify these unhealthy and counter-productive communication styles as well as explore the unexpressed feelings, needs, and fears that may lie beneath them.


  1. Learn to make specific complaints & requests (“when X happened, I felt Y, I want Z”).
  2. Communicating from the first person, as in “I am angry and upset with what you did” instead of “You pissed me off”.
  3. Validate your partner by admitting that there may be some truth in their position; let them know you understand what they are feeling; see the issue through their eyes.
  4. Claim responsibility: “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”
  5. Practice getting undefended by allowing your partner’s utterances to be what they really are: their attempts to express their thoughts, feelings, needs and fears.