Here are 26 different ways that your communication patterns are harming your relationships. Read over the list and then check which ones you tend to use in your relationships. Start practicing awareness of when these are used and then begin using more assertive, healthy communication approaches.
If you do use one of these accidentally, ask for a rewind or a do-over. Apologize and repair.
If you notice someone else using one of these, point it out in a curious, loving way. Ask them what they’re thinking or feeling and help them use healthier communication by listening and understanding.
“Stop acting like my mother!” “It’s not my fault we’re late.”
Jumps to blame and avoid taking responsibility. It’s a form of self-protection using righteousness or victimhood.
Instead of: be humble, open, take responsibility, be self-focused, listen
Respond with: listen, label it, have boundaries, avoid being defensive back
“When are you ever going to learn?” “I’d never do that to you.”
Eye-rolling, name-calling, mocking, condescending, disrespect, superiority, and disgust. Predictor of divorce. Mean-spirited.
Instead of: be honest, forgive, resolve resentments, understand, and engage. Be mindful of any self-contempt. Describe your needs and feelings. Build fondness and admiration.
Respond with: label it, use self-worth affirmations, have boundaries
“I’m out of here.”
Avoiding, giving the silent treatment, storming off, ghosting, dismissing.
Instead of: be curious, seek to understand, or ask for a timeout, self-soothe, know when you’re flooded, communicate rather than shut down, check your thoughts, be aware this leads to more conflict not less or to giving up entirely
Respond with: self-soothe, name it and ask for timeout, boundaries, seek support
“You’re wrong.” “That’s not what happened.”
Want to be right, “my view is the only view” mentality, pre-deciding, proving.
Instead of: foster give/take and understanding, recognize unmet expectations, the relationship doesn’t win when someone wins, look for growth opportunities, make a generous explanation, listen and give grace
Respond with: don’t engage in the back and forth or try to prove your side, boundaries, remind them of dangers of black/white thinking
“You don’t ever listen.” “You never make me a priority.”
Evaluating someone based on your perceptions, wants or needs.
Instead of: ask questions rather than accusations, 5 to 1 magic ratio, use gratitude and empathy, connect, be humble, gentle, be present, use I not You, and build appreciation.
Respond with: label it as criticism, explain how it makes you feel, speak truth
Having a predetermined mindset. Leads to blame and not seeing the person as human.
Instead of: shift from indictment to invitation, don’t push the person aside, be loving, be appreciative of a person’s qualities.
Respond with: turn the label into a strength, speak truth, don’t absorb the insult, seek support
7. Sarcasm/Patronizing Tone
“Nice job, Einstein.” “You really know how to stay on top of things.”
Belittling and degrading. Treating you like a child. Call you “too sensitive” when you react to it. Leads to self-censorship/silencing.
Instead of: choose not to be sarcastic when the other person isn’t
Respond with: call it out firmly, boundaries, seek support
“You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Targets a person’s power. Destroys a person’s self-esteem. Using your own wounds against you. Bragging about themselves to make you feel bad about yourself.
Instead of: seek help of professional, be aware of thinking errors/ traumas/fears, get to the why behind the behavior
Respond with: boundaries, avoid revealing any vulnerabilities/past trauma, seek support, know worth/truth
9. Blanket Statements/Generalizations
“I’ll never get over what you did.” “You’re always so sensitive.”
Refuses to consider different perspective. Use “never” and “always” statements. Doesn’t acknowledge nuances or take things into account.
Instead of: be aware of the words you use, see other perspectives, practice empathy
Respond with: resist their generalizing statements, realize their illogical thinking, boundaries, seek support, hold onto truth
“You shouldn’t do that.” “You don’t want to do that, do you?”
Uses isolation to micromanage you. Toying with your emotions. Keep you feeling off-balance. Don’t create a sense of safety or certainty in relationship. Maintain power over your emotions. Requiring others to cater to their needs. Dominating and demanding. Uses silent treatments, guilt trips, jealousy, intimidation to get their way.
Instead of: seek support of professional, name it/admit it, look into need for control- usually based in fear
Respond with: develop a plan to regain control over your own life, boundaries, know worth/truth, seek support, independence, trust yourself
“That didn’t happen.” “You imagined it.” “Are you crazy?”
Erodes ability to trust yourself/reality. Denies the truth. Pretend to be concerned. Isolate you. Minimize your feelings. Prevent seeking help.
Instead of: be aware of your own thoughts/needs/assumptions/ goals, be truthful, practice empathy, process fears, seek support
Respond with: ground yourself in reality, have validating community/support, boundaries, know truth/worth
“You don’t respect me” when really they aren’t respecting you. A needy partner calls you clingy. A lying partner accuses you of lying.
Unwilling to see own shortcomings. Avoids being held accountable. Attributes own behaviors onto someone else. Blame-shifting games.
Instead of: be aware of own thoughts and thinking errors, own your part, be honest, know your needs and articulate them
Respond with: don’t project your own mindset onto a toxic person, don’t own any of their projections, validate your own identity, seek support, boundaries
What Comes Next?
You’ve read the blogs, tips, and posts with catchy ideas. You’re taking the steps and making progress, but you crave more. You want answers about why habits have formed in your life and how you can take steps to ensure they don’t take hold again.
“Kids, do you think mom is being irrational?” “I’ll ask my mother what she thinks about you doing that.”
Bringing in a third person to validate their view, leaving you feeling insecure. Leaves you questioning yourself. Report false narratives.
Instead of: create boundaries around bringing in other parties to conflicts/situations
Respond with: call out triangulation, set boundaries, seek your own validation, get support
14. Jabs as Jokes
“It was just a joke.”
Malicious remarks at your expense. Accuses you of having no sense of humor. A form of gaslighting. Contempt.
Instead of: practice sincerity, vulnerability, empathy, honesty
Respond with: stand up for yourself and make it clear that you won’t tolerate this behavior, end the interaction immediately, seek support, label it for what it is, boundaries
15. Changing the Subject
“What about the time you…”
Reroute/derail discussions to benefit them.
Instead of: be honest, check your thoughts, don’t distract from matter at hand
Respond with: broken record method of repeating facts, redirect back, ask for a pause, boundaries, seek support
16. Nonsensical Conversations
Asking yourself, “how did we get here?” after a conversation.
Circular conversations, arguments, and disorientation mechanisms to get you off track. Goal is to discredit, confuse, distract, induce guilt, and frustrate you. Long drawn-out stories.
Instead of: be honest, know your needs/intentions, be aware of thinking errors/assumptions/expectations, listen to understand, seek help of professional
Respond with: don’t feed into them/counter them, cut the interaction short, boundaries, seek support
“You just think I’m dumb.” “You think we should just…?” “Oh, so now you’re perfect/I’m the bad one?”
They can’t handle differing opinions. Invalidate your right to have thoughts/emotions, while instilling sense of guilt, especially when making boundaries. Examples: mind-reading, jumping to conclusions, putting words in your mouth, over-simplifying, and making accusations.
Instead of: listen to understand, empathy, seek help of professional, recognize thinking errors
Respond with: simply state “I never said that,” ask for timeout/walk away, boundaries, put your statement/opinion in writing, seek support
18. Nitpicking/Moving Goal Posts
“You missed a spot.” “If you think you’re so _, then why aren’t you _ yet?”
Pull you down, argues back and forth, scapegoats you, changes expectations, has unobtainable expectations, and hyper focuses on flaws. Keeps you feeling unworthy.
Instead of: be aware of thinking errors/expectations/assumptions/ needs, be humble, stop the back and forth game
Respond with: validate and approve of yourself, don’t get sucked in, seek support, boundaries
19. Threats: Covert/Overt
“Do this or I’ll do that.”
Make unreasonable demands, divert you away from your own opinions, want submission, instill fear, and give ultimatums.
Instead of: be honest, vulnerable, humble, be aware of habit and change, seek help of professional
Respond with: see these as red flags, take threats seriously, document, and report if needed, seek support, boundaries
20. Name Calling
“You’re an idiot.” “You’re so weak.” “Don’t be silly.”
Stems from rage, to manipulate/micromanage, criticize, easy way to put you down, invalidating you. Rather than targeting the argument/issue, they target you.
Instead of: use I statements, doing point finger/blame, process anger, stick to issue at hand, be respectful when stating needs
Respond with: end the interaction, boundaries, don’t internalize
21. Destructive Conditioning
“This is pointless.” “It was disrespectful of you to even ask.”
Diverting attention back to themselves. Maintaining influence over you. Make positives negative. Abusive and disrespectful.
Instead of: seek help of professional, manage thoughts, get a different perspective, be honest about what you want
Respond with: don’t allow person to be your whole world or only sphere of influence, walk away, boundaries, seek support
“They’ll take my side.” “You’ll look like the crazy one, not me.”
Controlling how others see you. Playing martyr/victim and labeling you as the toxic one. Sabotages your reputation. Harass you or others close to you. Pitting you against someone. Gossip behind your back. Use your reactions as a way to prove your abuse.
Instead of: seek help of professional right away
Respond with: space, boundaries, document the incidents and speak with a lawyer, acknowledge the danger and tell someone
23. Love Bombing/Devaluation
“I love everything about you.” “We were born to be together.”
Idealize you at first then insulting you once your’e invested. Puts you on a pedestal while attacking someone else who threatens their superiority. Example: Devaluing ex to new partner. Pout/react when don’t receive attention they want from you.
Instead of: be honest with your intentions/motives, seek help of professional
Respond with: slow the relationship down, be wary of how they treat others, seek support
24. Preemptive Defense
“Trust me, I’ll never hurt you.”
Upfront, claiming they’re a “nice guy” or that you should trust them right away. Overstate their ability to be kind. Performing at a high level at first that’s not sustainable.
Instead of: check intentions/motives, be honest, vulnerable, seek help of professional
Respond with: trust actions more than empty words, awareness of feeling duped, build a solid foundation with the person first, seek support, boundaries
25. Bait/Feign Innocence
“How can you do that to me?” “I can change, I’m a good person.”
Baiting you with a disguised comment in order to play you. Use your insecurities to then ask if you’re ok and that they didn’t mean to upset you. Faux innocence catches you off guard. Baiting can include: provoke fear, use intrigue, make false accusations, guilt- trip, play the victim, give false hope.
Instead of: seek help of professional, be honest with what your motives are, recognize thinking errors/assumptions/expectations
Respond with: recognize the bait, don’t take what they say to heart, avoid engaging altogether, use your gut instinct, take some space, seek support, boundaries
26. Boundary Testing
“I promise I’ll never do that again.” “I’ll stop drinking.”
Testing limits, violating boundaries to know what they can do without consequences. Shows fake remorse and makes empty promises to change but doesn’t.
Instead of: be honest, get support, be aware of your thinking errors, stop making false promises
Respond with: reinforce boundaries rather than backtrack them, seek support
Reach out to our team of marriage and family therapists to learn more.
Kristi Schwegman is a psychotherapist specializing in helping couples develop healthy relationships, whether dating, engaged, or married. She also draws from her Christian-based approach to lead individuals in becoming aware of the limiting beliefs that can get them stuck.
We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!