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Consider your couples communication style and notice when they slip into dysfunctional patterns

No one is perfect, and there will likely be times when couples succumb to using passive or aggressive communication. Notice when this happens and guide couples towards making this the exception rather than the rule, and their relationship will surely grow!

What are their communication styles? Generally, there are four common styles:

  • Passive
  • Aggressive
  • Passive aggressive
  • Assertive

1. Passive

Passive communicators are often unwilling to share thoughts, feelings, or desires in an honest way. This tendency may stem from low self-esteem, but it is also used to avoid criticism or hurting others’ feelings. Being the recipient of passive communicators tend to leave their partner feeling angry, confused, and mistrustful.

2. Aggressive

On the other end of the spectrum is the aggressive communicator, often blaming and making accusations, as well as making over-generalisations such as “You always put me down in front of our friends!” or “You never want to spend time with me!” This style is generally used when one person is feeling threatened or having negative thoughts/feelings; it often focuses on the negative characteristics of the person, rather than the situation.

3. Passive-Aggressive

Passive-aggressive communicators will often behave passively to a person’s face, but display aggression when that person is not around. On the surface the communicator’s goal is to avoid conflict (like passive communicators), but they will often convey anger or seek vengeance later.

An example of this would be a stay-at-home-dad who feels resentful of his spouse for always working late and not helping out with any of the housework. Instead of actually talking to his partner about his feelings, he complains to his parents and brothers that she is underachieving as a wife and mother; meanwhile, his wife has no idea that there is any issue at all!

4. Assertive

Assertive communicators are able to express themselves in a healthy, non-defensive, and non-insistent way. They can ask for what they want while remaining positive and respectful. Exercising assertive communication encourages the other person to respond assertively as well, creating a positive cycle in relationships.

Any combination of the passive and aggressive communication styles can be detrimental to a relationship over time, as they result in lower levels of intimacy. If only one person is assertive and the other is passive or aggressive, the relationship may still suffer.

Always consider your limitations in terms of time, experience, and professional expertise when working with abusive couples. Consult or refer to other mental health professionals including marriage and family therapists and psychologists trained to work with abusive couples. Create connections with local domestic violence counsellors and agencies and utilise their expertise and support groups or contact us.

Shane Smith
Director PREPARE-ENRICH, Relationship Educator and MediatorPresident, Marriage and Relationship Educators Association of Australia

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