Ongoing clear communication is the foundation of any strong relationship, but just because you’re communicating with your partner doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Most couples come in and say “we need help communicating.”  That’s rarely the problem.  They’re communicating alright, they’re just doing it in a way that provokes their partner, rather than connecting with them.  Their style of communication pushes them away, rather than turning towards them. 

In fact, there are four notorious communication problems which can spell impending doom for a relationship. In some cases, one or both partners may not know they’re falling into these patterns. In other cases, one or both individuals may acknowledge the behaviors, but they’re unsure of how to control them. 

The 4 Communication Patterns That Predict Relationship Failure (And How to Avoid Them) 

There are four main communication flaws that can trigger the demise of a relationship if left unaddressed. Luckily, there are also effective ways for resolving them. If your relationship is marked by any of the following issues, that doesn’t mean you have to walk away. Here are the four major communication problems and ways to work through them with your partner:  

1 Criticizing  

Your partner should be your biggest fan, not your harshest critic. While it’s perfectly normal – and even healthy – to take issue with some of the things your partner does, you should never attack their character. In other words, address the behavior, not the person.   

To resolve criticism, stop the blame game by starting your sentences with the word “I.” This can help to communicate your feelings about your partner’s behavior and how it affected you, while also paving the way for a resolution you can both approach together. For instance, instead of saying “You’re a workaholic who doesn’t care about the family” – a statement that criticizes the character of the person – instead consider saying, “I miss you when you work late every night. Can we find a way to cut back on your hours?” 

2 Condescension  

Arrogance and disdain are manifest through expressions that suggest one partner is “better” than the other. These damaging behaviors may encompass name-calling, mockery, and other forms of hostility. Of all four harmful communication patterns, condescension is most likely to break up a relationship.  

For both partners to feel valued, it’s important to confront condescension head on. Cultivate respect by expressing appreciation for each person’s contributions to the relationship. Make a habit of thanking each other, and resist the urge to stoop to mockery any time a problem arises. Instead, talk out issues using the approach discussed in the first point.   

3 Defensiveness 

If “it’s not my fault,” has become a go-to phrase for either partner in a relationship, it can prevent healthy conflict resolution. Getting defensive is simply a way of protecting oneself from blame, but as a result, it also lays the blame on the other individual. This can create a vicious cycle that will cause you and your partner to argue about the same topics over and over again.    

To break the cycle, both individuals can learn to look for the grain of truth for at least some part of the conflict. For instance, perhaps one partner misunderstood the other’s request, while the other partner could have been clearer in what they were asking.  

4 Withdrawal 

Going into “shutdown mode” – wherein one or both individuals completely shuts out the other – will obviously halt any communication and prevent the couple from reaching a healthy conclusion. While some people do need time to process an issue, playing the silent game will only incite frustration in the other partner.  

Prevent tempers from escalating and give yourselves time to cool off by instituting a half-hour break any time someone in the relationship becomes too angry or upset to talk. Just be sure to fill this time with a healthy behavior, such a going for a walk or taking a short drive. Most importantly agree before the break that you will return to see IF both of you are sufficiently calmed down to resume a productive conversation.  If not, negotiate when you’ll be available to resume the discussion.  Taking a break is a valuable tool, when used correctly.  Agreeing to return to the discussion is a key part of the tool. 

Most importantly, remember that communication issues require patience and effort from both partners to correct. If your partner is guilty of any of the behaviors mentioned above, improvements won’t happen overnight. As long as they’re making a conscious effort to correct them, however, recognize their willingness to try and be patient as you work towards your goal together.   


If you’re experiencing any of these forms of communication  in your relationship, counseling may be the solution you need to work through barriers in a safe space with proven communication tools. For couples in the Mountainside, NJ area, Chuck Beardsley, LCSW is a trusted source for strengthening relationships through healthy conflict resolution practices. Book an appointment online, or call (908) 264-5336 for more information.