Communication Styles that Kill Relationships

Recently a friend shared that she noticed a shift in her relationship with a good friend. She expressed concern that their once fulfilling friendship has become draining. She noticed that she feels on guard during their time together and no longer feels comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings. She hates that the dynamic of the friendship has changed drastically but feels it would be too difficult to address. She decides to avoid her friend for a while until the awkwardness dies down.

How many times have we experienced a disagreement or a misunderstanding with a friend? If you have friends you have known for a while, you know this can often happen. When problems arise, communication is vital to reaching a solution. The ways we use communication reflect our goal in a relationship. Our goal could either be to foster connection or disconnection. Connection is developed through vulnerability. Disconnection is maintained through avoidance of vulnerability.

Deep down we all long for others to accept us, to choose us and to desire our friendship. Memories of rejection or manipulation by others could lead us to create strategies to protect ourselves from future pain. If we grew up in an environment in which others validated our thoughts and feelings or experiences, we are more likely to develop confidence that our view matters and that we are valued as individuals. This confidence allows us to be vulnerable with others and still feel secure in who we are. On the other hand, if we grew up in an environment in which our thoughts and feelings were invalidated or ignored, we are more likely to believe that our view does not matter and that we do not have value as individuals. If we believe that our thoughts and feelings are not important, we probably won’t value the opinions, thoughts, beliefs or feelings of others.

A critical environment creates a sense of fear of judgment and shame for who we are. We don’t feel secure to speak our mind and share what we think and feel. Fear and shame begins to motivate unhealthy communication styles such as: passive communication, aggressive communication and passive aggressive communication.

Passive Communicators keep their real thoughts and feelings to themselves. These communicators are extremely agreeable in an effort to avoid judgment. They can be described as people pleasers. They never allow others to see them upset and they may discount their own desires for the sake of others. They want to matter, but to risk trusting someone else with their thoughts and feelings is so scary that they choose to avoid it all together. It does not take long until this communicator begins to resent the other person for the one sided relationship they have created.

Aggressive Communicators desire to have all the power in a relationship. They maintain control by intimidating the other person and invalidating their thoughts and feelings. Any time they perceive their power is threatened, they become more aggressive. If a disagreement arises, aggressive communicators refuse to gain understanding but instead focus on getting the other person to agree with them.

Passive Aggressive Communicators avoid being vulnerable in relationships but still hold people accountable for any offense they perceive. They may withhold attention, affection, forgiveness or love in order to punish the other person for hurting them. The other person may sense something is wrong but because the passive aggressive communicator refuses to admit any hurt the other person has no opportunity to make amends.

The healthy approach to communication is Assertive Communication. Assertive communicators speak to gain understanding. They value others opinions and are not threatened by different points of view. They don’t tell people what to think, they ask people what they think and genuinely desire to know. A power struggle does not exist in this style of communicating since both individuals are secure in their worth as individuals.

As you read the descriptions of unhealthy communication styles, you may have had a few people come to mind. Maybe you thought about a friend or your parents that are unhealthy communicators. It’s easy to recognize these styles in other people, but I want to challenge you to see if you, intentionally or unintentionally, use one of these styles in your relationships. We cannot change other people but we can absolutely change the way we communicate.  If you notice that you are a passive aggressive communicator and your goal in relationships is to connect, something needs to change. The first step to change is to explore the ways that your communication style keeps you from intimacy in your relationships.

Summer Breeze

Don’t you just love it when one of your favorite songs comes on the radio, especially a song that you haven’t heard in a while? Yet even though it’s been a while, you still remember some if not all of the lyrics, and there are distinct memories attached to the song. That’s what happened to me as I was driving home recently when “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts started playing on the radio… “Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind.” As I was happily singing along, warm memories from my youth started replaying in my mind like a movie. For me this sort of thing happens with many classic songs and the theme that runs through them are memories of home and get togethers with family or friends.

It’s interesting that the memories attached to those songs are really simple ones: having a family BBQ in the backyard or going to visit with friends. They weren’t special occasions and did not require elaborate planning. That’s not to say that going to Disney didn’t create spectacular memories, but big trips were usually few and far between. The most plentiful memories were those that simply involved spending time with people we loved.

Reflecting on those memories makes me pause to consider how I spend my time today, and I hope it does the same for you. We live in a fast-paced society, and it is easy to get caught up in the busyness of our schedules. Yet there’s something inside of all of us that longs for a slower pace and being able to spend more time with others. It is in these quiet moments when we scroll through the images of those closest to us and certain feelings and emotions surface. This brings to mind the thought that perhaps our memories are not only fond remembrances of the past but are also gentle reminders of what the future could be.

Three years ago on July 1, 2013, Rolling Stone magazine rated “Summer Breeze” the 13th “Best Summer Song of All Time”. While the song is a classic, may be the reason why it has remained so popular over the years is that it evokes memories of a simpler life with those we love:

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom.

July is dressed up and playing her tune.

And I come home from a hard day’s work

and you’re waiting there not a care in the world.

See the smile a-waitin’ in the kitchen, food cookin’ and the plates for two.

Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening when the day is through.

While it may be idealistic to think that life can be that simple, perhaps there are things we can do, minor adjustments we can make, that will enable us to re-establish or enhance our connections with others. For some may be that means taking every thought captive so that there is time to be deliberate about choices. For others it may mean redefining priorities, asking the question, “Is this still a priority?” Wherever you find yourself, the good news is that making memories does not really require a grand gesture to show how much we care for the other person, but it does require two uncompromising elements: you and your time. So, as you begin clearing your calendar, think about the invitations or opportunities you have passed over. Consider going to lunch with that friend you keep putting off because you’re too busy, invite your neighbor over for a backyard BBQ, or actually go on that date night you and your wife keep talking about. Whatever it is you choose to do, the important thing is to spend time with a loved one because it is during those moments when warm and lasting memories are made.