Building Healthy Relationships, Part 1

Relationship concerns are one of the most common issues students bring up in counseling. It’s no surprise – our relationships are an extremely important part of our world! In this three-part series, CAPS case manager Edward Olvera shares some tips on avoiding pitfalls in communication that ruin relationships, as well as information on how to improve them. Our focus here is on romantic relationships, although I’m sure you’ll notice that many of these tips are applicable to your friendships and family relationships as well.

Conflict in Relationships: Recognizing Barriers to Communication

by Edward Olvera, LMFT

Many of us believe that conflict is the root cause of an unhappy relationship, however it’s not conflict itself that is the problem, but how we handle it. Venting anger constructively can actually be beneficial in getting a relationship back in balance. There are Four Barriers to successful communication in times of conflict: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Criticism involves attacking your partner’s personality or character, rather than focusing on the specific behavior that bothers you. The difference between saying, “I’m upset that you didn’t call me” and saying, “I can’t believe you didn’t call me. You’re so mean.”

Contempt is tearing down or insulting your partner, and attacking your partner’s sense of self. Insults and name-calling, hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery, and body language & tone of voice can convey contempt.

Defensiveness happens when we deny responsibility, or make excuses such as “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”; Ignoring, Contentious arguments, Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.

Stonewalling is refusing to respond, withdrawing and expressing disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness.

When these barriers take permanent residence in a relationship there is a high likelihood for significant problems and dissatisfaction. The barriers have an ‘erosion’ effect on your affection for your partner, and an eventual split up is the likely outcome.

Want to learn more about barriers to healthy communication, and how to improve your relationships? Stay tuned next week for more!