The 5 Biggest Communication Mistakes & How to Fix Them

We’ve been hearing “use your words” ever since we hit preschool and crayons became a hot commodity. While we’re no longer 3-year-olds battling it out for the “razzle dazzle rose” color, communicating well is still essential — especially when it comes to you and your SO. So how come we’re still making all of these communication mistakes?

Good news: It’s never too late to change your ways. We’ve rounded up the five worst communication mistakes you’re making with your SO and how to fix them. While the coolest Crayolas in the box might not be at stake, your relationship is, and we’d call that pretty important.

1. Kitchen-sinking

Think about the last fight you and your SO had. Did you stick to the topic that started the disagreement, or did you start bringing up each and every complaint that’s ever passed through your mind since the dawn of time — err, the beginning of your relationship?

Maybe initially your boyfriend is annoyed because you promised to go to a movie with him and then you bailed. Instead of concentrating on just that incident, you get defensive and point out he almost never comes to your open-mic nights.

“Any time someone’s bringing up the past, he or she is indicating resentment and unresolved issues,” says Patrick Wanis, a human behavior and relationship expert.

How to fix it:

If it’s pretty clear that you’re bringing up past arguments just to deflect blame, you’ll have to take a different approach. Wanis recommends making a list about the topics that keep coming up and planning a discussion about them for when you and your SO are both calm. “You’ll have less arguments in the future if you resolve those issues now,” he says.

Remind yourself that staying on topic is essential. After all, how can you solve the original problem if you’re constantly bringing up unrelated ones? So the next time you and your SO are arguing, pause and take a second to remember what originally started the fight. If you’re far from that issue, interject by saying, “I think we’ve gotten a little off track here. Originally, I was upset because…”

2. Freezing your partner out

If you’re still using the silent treatment, then that preschool reference is way too relevant. Not only is ignoring your SO immature, it’s toxic to your relationship as well. Sure, your boyfriend or girlfriend will figure out really quickly that you’re upset and you’ll get the short-term gratification of “punishing” him or her, but over time, your SO will feel resentful of your manipulative tactics.

It’s also impossible to resolve anything when one person is completely shut off, meaning that issue you were so upset about in the first place will just fester.

“You’ll never have success,” Wanis says. “The reason people use the silent treatment is to communicate that they are angry and that they’re trying to hurt you. It’s not a wise approach — it doesn’t solve anything.”

How to fix it

This fix is pretty easy: Stop using the silent treatment. The next time you’re angry and tempted to ignore or be curt with your SO, ask yourself if you want a Brad and Jen relationship or a Brad and Angie relationship. If it’s the latter (because they’re still together, obvi), then make yourself talk things out instead of relying on power plays.

If you want to suggest to your boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re upset, the more mature way to do that is simply to tell him or her, Wanis says.

Try saying calmly, “I’m angry because…” Your conflicts will be resolved way faster, and your SO will appreciate your straightforwardness.

3. Being defensive

So, who likes being told they’ve messed up?


Criticism — even when it’s constructive — can be hard to take. However, when it comes to your love life, you’re going to have to be open to feedback.

How do you know if you’re being too sensitive? When your boyfriend tells you that you seemed kind of quiet at dinner, do you assume he’s calling you moody and snap, “Do you know how much I’ve had to do this week? I’m obviously exhausted!” or do you say, “Sorry about that — I’ve had a crazy seven days, and I need a dose of Nutella and Game of Thrones to rejuvenate.”

In case it’s not obvious, you want your response to be more like the second.

How to fix it

“Feeling insecure or feeling threatened makes you defensive,” Wanis explains. He says that by figuring out the root of your behavior, you can modify your response. Instead of immediately snapping back when your boyfriend brings up something that’s bugging him, pause, recognize that you feel attacked, tell yourself you’re overreacting and then try to respond more appropriately. If you need a little more time to calm down, you can even say, “I’m feeling a little defensive right now. Can we talk about this later tonight or tomorrow? I definitely want to hear what you have to say, but I want to be in the right state of mind so I can really listen.”

You can also ask your SO to clarify his or her complaint. Ninety-nine percent of the time it will be about a smaller issue than you’re anticipating, so once your SO explains what he or she means, you won’t feel as big of a need to defend yourself.

“Practice mindfulness: being aware of your thoughts so you can separate them from your actions,” Wanis says. It’s not that you always have to agree with the criticism, but you do have to be open to hearing it.

4. Having arguments over text

It doesn’t matter how many emojis are added to the library — it’s always way more difficult to communicate over text than in person. “I’m sorry” can mean “I’m genuinely apologetic” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” — and you have no way of knowing which “I’m sorry” your SO is using without body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.

“The best ways to communicate are through body language and voice tonality,” Wanis says. “With texting, you completely remove that.”

How to fix it

On your end, it’s easy: Don’t send any angry texts that could lead to a fight. But what if your SO is the one to start things?

If you get a message saying something like, “BTW, I really did not appreciate how you acted tonight,” reply with, “I really want to talk about this — when I can actually see you.” Then give him or her a time or opportunity to discuss the problem. Bonus: By the time you guys meet up, your SO will probably have cooled down!

For those collegiettes out there in long-distance relationships, we have bad news: Virtual fights are almost inevitable. However, if you can, try to move the conversation to video chat. Just put down the iPhone, and it’s less likely that one of you will get hurt.

5. Trying to “win” the argument

When it comes to sports and the lottery, winning is awesome. However, when you try to win at fighting, most of the time you actually lose.

That’s because, according to Wanis, focusing on who’s right distracts you from the real mission: coming to a compromise you guys both like.

For example, suppose a discussion about whether you should spend celebrate a holiday at his house or your house turns into you trying to prove his mom dislikes you. At a certain point, you’re so caught up in convincing him that you’re totally unresponsive to whatever he’s saying — and making him less likely to listen to you. Coming to an agreement? Probably not going to happen. It’s a vicious cycle (kind of like J Bieb’s and Selena’s romance) and definitely takes its toll on a relationship.

How to fix it

Remind yourself that you’re not Rocky and this isn’t a boxing match — so stop trying to win!

If your boyfriend hates that you sometimes send drunken Snapchats that happen to include other (attractive) guys, don’t spend the whole argument trying to get him to recognize that you’re totally innocent. Instead, figure out the root of the problem (is he mad that you’re Snapping under the influence, or because you’re spending time with other guys?) and come up with a solution.

Like with over-defensiveness, Wanis recommends using the mindfulness technique.

“If you find yourself always needing to be right, pause, observe your behavior and detach yourself,” he says. “Then you can stop trying to win the argument and focus on what’s really important.”

We’d like to amend the advice of all the preschool teachers and moms of the world: It’s not just “use your words,” but “use your words well.” Good communication is key to a healthy relationship, so if you and your SO are guilty of any of these five errors, you should fix that, ASAP. Now can you please pass the Crayons?