The Biggest Barrier in Your Relationship: Negative Communication Patterns

communication gottman

Couples commonly get into negative self-reinforcing cycles. No couple is immune to a negative cycle, yet what we know from the research is what the Gottman’s refer to as “master couples” are the ones who are able to repair.

We all need to know what we are important and that we matter to our partners. We have an innate need for emotional contact and security with the one we love. The challenge is that when couples become distressed, this emotional availability and safety decreases, and so too does our attachment security - the knowing and trusting that our partners are there for us.

Negative Cycles: What Are They?

Often when a couple is having an argument about different issues - say, an issue with the kids, or household duties, or in-laws - the pattern of communication underlying those different subjects is the same. The subject matter may be a specific point of difference or a particular unmet need, but the argument itself is a result of the same reason it always does: your cyclical pattern of communication.

These negative communication patterns consist of:
negative displays of emotions
unmet needs and longings
blame and hostility, and
These behaviors and experiences become entrenched into a repeating, cyclical pattern that continues to reinforce over time.

Couples who are stuck in negative communication often share two things in common: They feel 1) insecure and 2) disconnected.

What does a negative cycle sound like? One partner says “I yell at you because you don’t do anything!” and the other says “I don’t do anything because you keep yelling at me.” There is no start and no end in sight. This further perpetuates insecurity and feelings of rejection and abandonment. These patterns stop you from being able to solve problems through empathy and compromise.

It’s important to know that these cyclical negative communication patterns are linked to higher rates of divorce– which is why I want you to take note and make a change.

I See the Cycle. Now What?

A key tool for creating connection is to gain an understanding of what is happening BETWEEN you and your partner. This means that we will not go into the topic of the conflict and find who is “right” or “wrong.” Instead, we want to know what is happening in your dynamic– not necessarily what is happening regarding the subject at hand.

I like to ask the question of WHAT as a way to help understand this.

I ask couples, “What happened between you two?”

Ask yourself this:
What do you do when you have a disagreement with your partner?
What triggers your reactions? What are your “hot buttons”?
What do you feel in those moments? What do you say to yourself?
What’s the move you make when this happens?

Identifying the cycles through these types of questions will shed light on how to break free. From there, you can decide to respond in a different way than usual as you navigate into a healthier communication pattern.

Ready to identify the pattern keeping you stuck? Take my free quiz!

Dr. Tracy