Recognising destructive communication styles is the first step towards recovery and if you are prepared to do it, it shows that you care about your relationship.
An effective way to identify negative communication styles is to use the analogy of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. These refer to the following approaches:
Horseman One: Criticism
Criticising your partner and using language such as ‘You’re terrible at…’ make them feel attacked. If they feel attacked, you won’t progress to discussing your issues rationally. Try moderating your style by saying, ‘When you do X, did you know that I feel X?’ to open up a discussion.
If you communicate with your partner with contempt, you will be using tactics such as name-calling or using hostile body language such as eye-rolling. This extremely destructive style can be indicative of a relationship on the edge. But if you are prepared to change your behaviour and recognise how hurtful it is to your partner, there is hope.
Horseman Three: Defensiveness
This is when you respond to your partner’s accusations with excuses, making your partner feel that they are not being heard. If you find yourself getting defensive, try to be honest with yourself and acknowledge deserved criticism. Instead of denying the accusation you could try saying, ‘I’m sorry that my insecurity makes you feel like that. Can you work with me so I can feel better about myself?’.
Horseman Four: Stonewalling
If you stonewall your partner, this means that you are withdrawing from them. This could be by giving them “the silent treatment” or could manifest itself in body language such as avoiding eye contact. This can make your partner feel increasingly anxious and hopeless. If you feel the urge to cut yourself off from your partner why not say, ‘I need some time alone. Give me a couple of hours and then we can talk’?
Don’t wait until you are in full-blown war mode with your partner to instigate repair. It’s all about stopping negativity from taking over and clouding your view of your relationship.
Remember that being the first to offer reconciliation and repair is not a sign that you have “lost”. It’s a sign that you value your relationship and are committed to its survival.
3. Be creative
There is no set way to repair your broken relationship. Each partnership is unique, and each partner must find their own way to offer and accept repair attempts.
For example, if you have a way with words you may want to handwrite a letter to your partner offering apology or reconciliation.
4. Be receptive
Be receptive to your partner initiating attempts to repair your relationship. Even if you’re not in a place to accept your partner’s repair attempt, you can still acknowledge it and say that you’re not ready to progress your reconciliation.
You can then respond once you’ve gathered your thoughts and offer your own attempt at reconciliation.
5. Take a break
It’s OK to step back and tell your partner that you need a breather. Taking some time to work over issues by yourself will help you order your thoughts and better place you to start the healing process.
Be clear about how much time you need so you don’t leave your partner anxious about whether you intend to come back at all. And don’t be offended if your partner asks the same of you. Having space between you will help you both see your issues clearly.
6. Look back to the future
Many couples fall into the trap of referring back to past events during an argument. This means that repair has never been effective and stops them from moving forward.
To break this vicious cycle, you need to repair your past grievances before going on to tackle your current issues. Only by clearing the air will you be able to heal and work towards a brighter future for your relationship.
Giving your relationship the best chance to thrive
No relationship is perfect – think of it as a living entity that needs nurturing to let it grow.
If you can combine honesty and the willingness to make amends with some or all of the 6 ways to repair your broken relationship, you are giving it the best chance you can to thrive in a beautiful and evolving environment.