Healthy communication relies on using verbal and nonverbal cues to express your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. Communication can be the foundation for developing close bonds in adult relationships.
It seems like healthy communication should come naturally and instinctually. But many people have grown up in households where learning good communication skills was not a priority.
If you had poor communication skills modeled to you as a child, you might have noticed that it affects your relationships as an adult. You may turn others away or have problems maintaining long-term relationships with people you care about.
The Importance of Communication in Adult Relationships
Lack of communication is one of the top reasons cited for divorce. The inability to communicate effectively can be devastating to a partnership, but romantic relationships aren’t the only ones affected by unhealthy communication.
Four Routes to Healthy Communication
Whether with friends, family members, or coworkers, every relationship you have can benefit from good communication.
Consider these four ways that communication is essential to any adult relationship:
1. Getting to Know Each Other
Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a work partnership, it’s impossible to establish compatibility without clear communication. Sharing your likes and dislikes, values, and goals is essential to building a bond of trust and understanding.
2. Avoiding and Resolving Misunderstandings
Misunderstandings are inevitable no matter how well you communicate, but they can be avoided or more easily resolved when you practice healthy communication.
If one or both people in a relationship are poor communicators, minor problems can quickly escalate into hurtful and even destructive situations.
3. Setting Realistic Expectations
It’s normal to expect different things from different relationships. However, not everyone makes their expectations clear, leading to disappointment.
Imagine if your employer did not tell you what your job responsibilities were. Would you show up to work every day and try to figure it out, or would you find another job where you could excel? The same goes for relationships.
Communication allows people to set realistic expectations for their relationships and change those expectations as needed. We usually aren’t used to communicating our expectations in a relationship, but when both people are on the same page, it removes the pressure to “get things right.” From there, both parties can move forward with a mutual appreciation and understanding.
4. Having Your Needs Met
You can’t expect a friend or romantic partner to meet your needs if you do not express them. Assuming others will instinctively know what you want from a relationship is not only unfair, it is a form of self-sabotage.
If you fear a loved one will not provide the emotional support you want, not telling them you want emotional support will ensure that your fear will become a reality.
Recognizing your own communication style or someone else’s can be difficult if you don’t know what healthy communication is supposed to look like. You may think miscommunication issues are always the other person’s fault or the opposite: that they are always your fault. The truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle.
The good news is that you can work on your communication and get better at it with practice.
Examples of Healthy Communication
There’s an old saying that you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. While good communication skills don’t require being artificially sweet, being sour certainly won’t bring others closer to understanding your perspective.
You can’t control how others treat you or how they will perceive you, but you can lay a foundation for mutual respect by the way you communicate.
Some of the characteristics of healthy communication in adult relationships include:
- Active listening (giving your full attention and responding appropriately)
- Maintaining a conversational tone
- Keeping body language respectful, engaged, and open
- Being willing to acknowledge when you have been wrong
- Using “I” statements instead of assigning blame
- Making eye contact
- Using appropriate language for the situation
- Having a willingness to compromise
- Giving positive feedback and showing appreciation
- Avoiding universal statements like “you always” or “I never”
Using good communication skills is productive. You will solve more relationship problems, parent more effectively, be a better friend, and have greater success at work by practicing and recognizing healthy communication from others.
Examples of Unhealthy Communication
You may be practicing unhealthy communication without realizing it. Or you may be accepting the unhealthy patterns of someone else without fully understanding the impact it has on your self-esteem and relationship.
Some unhealthy communication habits include:
- Using sarcasm or mocking someone
- Criticizing and blaming instead of taking responsibility
- Using disrespectful language
- Refusing to apologize for or acknowledge mistakes
- Interrupting instead of listening
- Name-calling or using other forms of verbal abuse
- Multitasking during a conversation
- Using aggressive nonverbal cues like pointing fingers or slamming fists
- Refusing to compromise
- Becoming overly emotional
- Invalidating the other person’s feelings
Unhealthy communication leads to more conflict. It is hurtful, chaotic, and creates unnecessary drama.
Addiction and Unhealthy Communication
People with alcohol or substance use disorders may have learned unhealthy ways of communication as part of their survival techniques. For many, lying, blaming others, using sarcasm, and being verbally or nonverbally hostile are part of addiction.
Even those who understood the value of healthy communication before developing a substance use disorder may not remember how to communicate effectively with the people they love. But there is hope.
How to Learn Healthy Communication
There are quite a few ways to learn healthy patterns of communication. Therapy can be a great tool in unlearning unhealthy communication patterns and establishing new healthy communication patterns.
Regulating your emotions is another essential skill for improving communication. You might feel vulnerable when you begin to express your feelings and needs, especially if you haven’t been able to do so in the past. Dialectical Behavior Therapy can be helpful for those who are learning how to cope with stress and anxiety. Staying balanced even when discussions get emotionally tricky is key to good communication, and a therapist can help you learn new healthy coping strategies and improve emotional resilience. That way, you can feel safe being vulnerable and sharing openly.
You can build on your progress in individual therapy with family sessions. Family therapy offers a safe environment for family members who wish to repair and improve relationships. With help from a mental health professional, families can learn how to engage in healthy communication habits together, often creating new bonds that go beyond their expectations. When we learn how to communicate within our family, we can apply that knowledge to other relationships. Healthy family communication can create a foundation of stability, which is why all of our programming includes a family therapy component.
Getting Support for Healthy Communication
Learning to create and maintain healthy relationships is part of life, even though we aren’t often directly taught how to use healthy communication. The good news is that everyone can improve their communication, and there is support available.
If you have pushed away those you love through unhealthy communication or don’t know how to recognize healthy relationship habits when you see them, you are not alone. Call us at 855-510-4585 or start a to see how we can help you get the support you need.
Reviewed by Emmeline Massey MSW, LSW