We all learn to handle conflict differently throughout our lives. We all have good and bad habits, but some are just plain toxic. How your partner communicates with you during conflict can determine the longevity and viability of your relationship. No one likes to be belittled by their significant other, especially during an argument. So, what sort of red flags in conflict should you look out for in a partner?
We’ve touched on different communication styles before on The EverydayOwl and what healthy communication using “I statements” looks like in a relationship. If you want to read more on it, check out the article here. But here’s a quick generic breakdown of the different types of communication styles.
- Passive: Passive communicators try to keep the peace while avoiding confrontation as much as possible. They usually follow others and can easily get along with them because of their “go with the flow” mentality.
- Aggressive: You’ll know if you or someone you know is an aggressive communicator. You can see or hear it immediately. They are loud, dominating, and intense with their voice and eyes. They usually are very commanding and fail to listen to others, but they also are considered leaders by those around them.
- Passive-Aggressive: Passive-aggressive communicators tend to feel powerless within themselves, allowing anger and resentment to take hold. They will mutter things to themselves instead of confronting people to counter those feelings. Their body language will match what they feel, but their words will not. They may even deny there is a problem. These communicators know what they need but have a hard time voicing it.
- Assertive: Assertive communicators can express their needs, feelings, and ideas while also thinking about others. They want both parties to come out on top of the situation. One of the major tools of assertive communicators is “I statements.” This helps them make clear what is bothering them without blaming the other.
Red Flags in Conflict
There is a difference between a complaint about your significant other and criticizing them. When you complain about your partner to them, it is about a specific issue, whereas criticism directly attacks their character and who they are as a person. This attack of character can leave the victim feeling rejected and hurt.
Contempt is a vile and festerous virus of the heart. Holding contempt for your partner and acting on it are leagues above that of criticism. Whereas criticism attacks a person’s character, contempt perpetuates an idea of moral high ground and self-righteousness while attacking your partner. Contempt fueled by long-standing negative thoughts about your partner highlights disrespect and mockery, usually in the form of eye-rolling and mean-spirited sarcasm.
We have all been defensive before in conflict, especially when it feels like we are under attack. But in reality, defensiveness is just a manipulation ploy to guilt your significant other into backing off for the time being. There are times when being defensive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you flip the script and play the victim, you have an issue on your hands. Defensiveness is usually a response to criticism and will only escalate your conflict because, at its core, defensiveness is a way to shift the blame onto your partner.
Stonewalling is as passive as it gets. Someone who stonewalls is retreating from the conflict, not willing to engage and work with their partner to overcome whatever conflict comes up. People who stonewall become evasive. They usually stop listening, act busy, or start-up distracting behavior.
What to do
Healthy communication is hard. If it were easy, then there wouldn’t be as much toxicity in relationships. All you can do is keep an eye out for your communication style, the good and the bad, and grow to be a better communicator with your partner by holding each other accountable. (Easier said than done.) And if you want to read more about these communication and relationship ideas, check out The Gottman Institute.