“You take forever to text me back.” “You aren’t listening to me.” “You never open up to me when you’re upset about something?” “You’ve been really passive-aggressive lately.” What do all of these comments have in common? They’re about communication, which, as many of us know, is hands-down one of the most critical components of a healthy relationship. Communication affects everything from our trust to our emotional well-being and sense of security in a relationship, and many couples struggle with some aspect of it at some point or another. So, if you’re curious about how to handle relationship fights about communication, you're not alone. Ultimately, tackling the issue head-on is the only way to pursue positive change in how you and bae communicate, but there is a right and wrong way to go about it.
Indeed, fighting about communication can be pretty tricky territory — and with good reason.
“Fights about communication can be very complicated because you actually have to communicate about bad communication,” explains Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles. “If you don't have some rules and guidelines about how to effectively communicate, it is more than a little difficult to learn how to argue fairly and effectively.”
Not to mention, these fights can be even more challenging if you or your partner struggles with communication specifically.
“Some people are simply poor communicators, leaving their partners to draw conclusions incorrectly,” says relationship expert and author Susan Winter. “Poor communication skills demand the other partner make assumptions, which normally end up being incorrect.”
Improving your communication with your partner is definitely a worthy endeavor. However, there are certain tactics you should try to employ, as well as avoid, in having these kinds of arguments to ensure they lead to positive changes rather than more problems.
One major no-no that all experts agree on is allowing your fight to play out over text (or DM, a phone call, etc.) Basically, you shouldn't delve into this argument until you're face to face.
“This is one of the very worst ways to try and resolve conflict because you really need to hear your partner's voice, see their facial expressions, and read their body language,” explains Dr. Brown. “You just can't do that while texting as 80% of our communication is nonverbal, so this is a big point to remember.”
Licensed clinical psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author Dr. LeslieBeth Wish also notes that confronting your partner about their poor communication while they are at their job can intensify fear and anger, not to mention distract them from work. Both Dr. Wish and Dr. Brown advise opening up a conversation about your communication issues in a private location where you both feel comfortable.
“Pick a place in your home where you and your partner are least likely to feel stressed,” Dr. Wish says.
For this reason, she recommends avoiding places like the kitchen, where you might be tempted to multitask by doing the dishes. When you’re discussing communication problems, it’s super important that all of your focus is on the discussion at hand. You’re more apt to listen better that way, and you’re less likely to have misunderstandings. Plus, this shows your partner that you deeply care about what they have to say.
Dr. Wish suggests being upfront from the get-go about what you’d like to talk about.
“Be sure to tell your partner that you have something difficult to discuss about how you communicate with each other," she says.
She notes that starting off by saying you have a problem with how they communicate (rather than how you communicate with each other) could cause your partner to feel attacked and thus, become defensive.
“The minute you attack or accuse, you'll lose your partner's willingness to work toward a solution,” adds Winter.
You might even begin the conversation with some statements about your shortcomings in dealing with communication.
“When we start owning our own shortcomings, that can make it easier for your partner to open up about their own stumbling blocks,” says Dr. Brown.
Winter points out that it’s a good idea to write out some bullet points ahead of time so you know exactly what you want to say, and you can present your perspective in an organized, rational fashion. That way, you’re less likely to forget to bring up an important point or let fear or anger cloud your ability to honestly share your feelings.
Another thing that can prove helpful in preventing a conversation from escalating is maintaining physical contact. According to Dr. Wish, even holding hands or having an arm or thigh touching while you’re having the discussion may make you feel more connected and calm.
While presenting your points in a clear, calm manner is obviously crucial to having a healthy fight, it’s also important to actively listen to your partner’s side of things as well.
“Make your primary goal in any argument to learn — not to ‘win,’” says Dr. Brown. “Make it a point to not step on each other's responses. You truly need to listen without interrupting — that way both of you can feel heard.”
If you’ve been having multiple communication issues, it might be tempting to start delving into all of them at once, but Dr. Brown says it’s best to focus on one at a time.
“This will help both of you stay focused and significantly improve your chances of resolving a conflict,” he tells Elite Daily.
Dr. Brown also recommends allowing for timeouts during these fights.
“When your emotions run too high for too long, things can become toxic,” he explains. “You absolutely want to avoid the conversation degrading to the point when one or both of you are yelling and screaming. This is the least useful as well as the most harmful thing you can do as you are likely to say things that could do real damage to your relationship. Instead, take a break until cooler heads prevail.”
If you're really struggling with communication in your relationship — and conditions don’t seem to be improving as a result of these fights — then you may need to seek a little extra help. Dr. Brown suggests seeking out a couples therapist who’s trained to help people learn how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Talking to an unbiased third party can often shed new light on your relationship problems, and may make it easier to reach a compromise that works for both of you.
Dr. Wish also recommends doing a quick Google search for agencies that offer classes or groups that focus on communication, fair fighting, and anything related to managing disagreements. If there are no such agencies in your area offering these kinds of workshops, she proposes doing some reading on how to communicate effectively with your partner.
Fighting about communication can feel inherently frustrating — after all, effective, healthy fighting depends on quality communication skills. That said, these are the fights that are actually important to have. Once you can hone in on improving your communication, your arguments will become increasingly productive, and decreasingly destructive. Now that’s something worth fighting for.