Unhealthy Communication Patterns

This blog discusses four common unhealthy communication patterns in relationships and offers practical tips to overcome them. Learn how to identify and address these patterns to improve your relationship's communication and conflict resolution skills.

Updated June 14, 2024

Early on in our engagement, there were a few times we found ourselves seemingly stuck in a loop of getting into an argument about something dumb, thinking we resolved the issue, then doing it all over again.

Generally, the problem could be traced back to unhealthy communication patterns. Patterns that we kept reverting back to without even realizing it.

At their worst, unhealthy communication patterns can cause massive fights and underlying tension in a marriage. At their best, they’re annoying, and as the name suggests, unhealthy.

Below are four, common, unhealthy communication patterns (we talk about this more in our online premarital course). As you read through these, think about whether or not you’re guilty of any of these patterns. Then, determine how you can take steps to resolve these patterns going forward.

Pattern #1: Negative Interpretation

Negative interpretation means you believe your partner’s intentions and words are more negative than they actually are. You may be negatively interpreting your partner's intentions if you find them frequently saying things like:

  • “That’s not what I meant!”
  • “You’re putting words in my mouth!"
  • “That’s not what I said!”

When you negatively interpret, you create a “me vs. you” mentality with your partner. This can quickly frustrate your partner who is unable to see what they’ve done or said wrong.

How to Overcome Negative Interpretation: Always assume the best intentions in your partner; ask clarifying questions to better understand your partner’s intentions; approach every conflict with a “same team” mentality.

Pattern #2: Withdrawing from Conflict

Withdrawing from conflict is exactly as it sounds… you’re unwilling to stay involved in tough conversations. You may be with withdrawing from conflict if you find your partner frequently saying:

  • “Why won’t you just talk to me?”
  • “I can’t help if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
  • “You’re seriously going to walk away again?”
How to Overcome Withdrawing from Conflict: Commit to not walking away from tough conversations; don’t pretend like the conflict doesn’t exist; take a timed pause from the conversation to gather your thoughts without withdrawing.

Pattern #3: Invalidating

Invalidating means to minimize or dismiss your partner’s words or emotions during a conflict. Invalidating can happen in a lot of forms, you can read this article to learn more. You may be invalidating your partner if you find them frequently saying:

  • “You’re not even listening to me!”
  • “Why do you always have to be 'right?'”
  • “Why do you always make me feel stupid?”

Invalidating can tricky to identify because minor dismissals during conflict can be seen as a defense mechanism. Invalidating allows you to minimize your role in the conflict and make yourself feel better about what’s happening… all at the expense of your partner and their feelings. If done frequently, invalidating your partner will lead them to shut down and not come to you in the first place.

How to Overcome Invalidating: Remove the need to always have to be “right”; seek to understand your partner’s viewpoint; intentionally validate their feelings during all interactions.

Pattern #4: Escalating the Conflict

When you escalate conflicts, you allow negative reactions and responses to pile on top of each other until you’re in a full-blown fight that generally has nothing to do with the initial argument. You may be escalating conflict if you find your partner frequently saying:

  • “Why would you even bring that up? I thought we were over that!”
  • “Why are you getting so upset about this?”
  • “Why are you being so defensive? I’m just trying to talk.”

Escalating conflicts isn’t helpful for anyone. It can cause your partner to walk on eggshells because any minor conflict can lead to a full-blown fight.

How to Overcome Escalating the Conflict: Don’t bring up previously resolved conflicts, stay on topic; make a commitment to remain calm and keep your emotions in check; take a quick timeout and think through your response.

Which of these patterns do you find yourself falling into? After reading this post, are you able to see how these unhealthy patterns aren’t helpful for your relationship? We’ve been guilty of all of these things at one time or another, and you probably will be, too.

The important thing to 1) identify when you’ve fallen into the pattern, and 2) take steps to overcome it.

When you're ready, our online premarital course will help you learn healthy communication and conflict habits.

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