Last week, we looked at two forms of harmful communication, how they could negatively affect a relationship and alternative ways to communicate so that resolution occurs positively and healthily.

This week, we continue our journey into this topic.

Harmful communication style #1 – Contempt.

Contempt is a communication style that expresses feelings of inferiority, where the receiver of contempt feels looked down upon, lesser than, or scorned by the communicator.

This is a very destructive form of communication, and when treated in this manner, it leads to feelings of inadequacy, shame, or despise by your partner.

Some typical behaviors of contemptuous communication include:

  • Name-calling, belittling, swearing, or being disrespectful.
  • Gaslighting or denying the importance of the other’s feelings.
  • Pressuring others to do things against their core values.
  • Humiliating, insulting, or ridiculing in front of others, especially family members and children.

 Example of contemptuous communication:

“You spent how long cooking this meal? It tastes terrible! You couldn’t follow the recipe; you’re an idiot.”

This manner of speech only serves to hurt and is, in my profession, not surprisingly, a significant predictor of divorce.

Harmful communication style #2 – Criticism.

Unsurprisingly, criticism towards others tends to elicit a negative response. Criticism is a harmful communication pattern as it immediately puts others on the defensive and causes negative emotions. 

Expressing dissatisfaction or sharing a grievance is a part of a healthy relationship. We need this to help guide a marriage, learn what the other needs, and understand our needs. However, when a grievance turns into outright criticism, a person feels attacked or judged. 


“You went to the hairdressers? You look worse than when you went in! Like I said, you would look much better if you let your hair grow out.”

Most people can not deal with long-term criticism, yet unfortunately, critical people are often unaware of their actions. They believe they are “helping” or “improving” their partner and do not understand why they become defensive in response. 

Using criticism as a form of communication slowly destroys a relationship; it erodes self-esteem and slowly removes the love and positive feelings others may have felt for you. 

If you use criticism or contempt as a form of communication, here are two techniques to help you express yourself so that people will be receptive to your insight, feelings, and complaints.

Assertive communication method #1 – Express complaints by using gentle inquiry.

Words hold tremendous power when used to elicit either negative or positive responses. Sometimes, we may have the best intentions in our wording yet are unaware that we are perceived as hostile, aggressive, or apathetic.

Individuals proficient in assertive communication prioritize the consequences of their words. When faced with problem-solving scenarios, they employ considerate questioning using gentle inquiry rather than confrontational strategies.

For example, Your partner offered to go to the store to pick up groceries for dinner. However, despite having a list, they forgot most items when they arrived home and returned with chocolate and desserts instead.

This situation is very frustrating as it requires either scrounging in the cupboards to make something new or going to the store to get the correct items. 

It would be effortless to lose your temper, either grab the keys and say, “I will just do it myself,” or get angry at your partner. You are justified to feel annoyed, but instead of using anger to communicate, try using the following:

“I feel”… Describe your feelings.

“When you”… Describe the behavior that bothers you.

“Because”… Describe how this behavior affects you.

“I need”… Request the changes you want the person to make.

For example:

I feel (annoyed) when you (come back from the shops without the right groceries) because I feel (like I have to do it myself and can’t rely on you for help). I need you to (remember to read the list and be mindful of buying what is on there) this way (I can get the kid’s homework done while you help with the shopping), meaning (we can spend more time together later). 

Example #2

You hear your wife talking on the phone with her best friend about your sex life. This hurts you deeply as you don’t talk about this with your mates.

I heard you speaking with your friend about our sex life, and I feel (very hurt and betrayed by this) because I feel (this is private, and I am not comfortable having others know about the intimacy we share). I understand (that you need to talk with someone, but could you please refrain from sharing intimate details with others). I need to trust that (what happens in our bedroom is between us, and if you want to talk things through, please come and speak to me first).

Does this formula work every time? Of course not. However, it is a very effective form of communication when used correctly. 

Assertive communication method #2: Give and receive praise readily.

People like hearing that they are appreciated, especially by their partner. Instead of trying to change someone through criticism or contempt, compliment the aspects of your partner that you genuinely respect.

 If you need to request your partner to make a change, consider using a genuine compliment while maintaining authenticity to your feelings and needs. For example :

“Thank you for washing the car; I appreciate the help. If I can ask, you put the bucket and rags back in the garage next time. I always do it, and I would appreciate it if you could pop them back in the same place.”

Here, you’re showing genuine appreciation for a chore well done while also asking for a small change.

Praising someone opens you up to see the positives; this way, when a problem arises, you can look back on all you appreciate about your partner instead of dwelling on the negatives. A healthy, happy couple sees the positive in each other; they can look past minor annoyances and let go of these so that when a problem does arise, they can address it from a place of mutual respect and love.

Effective communication plays a crucial role in every relationship. Engaging in open, kind, and honest dialogue enhances your connection with your partner and creates a shared history. This foundation of shared experiences enables you to confidently tackle problems and fortify your relationship.

The Marriage of Stacy and William

Married 30 years, from the outside looking in they have a perfect marriage. They never disagree with each other. They rarely conflict. They hold hands in public. They are always civil to each other in public. 

Behind closed doors, however, there is a different story. While they dine together, they share very little with each other about their day beyond superficial topics. After dinner, William typically watches football on the den television while she goes into her bedroom to watch her favorite shows. They stopped sleeping together years ago. He masturbates twice a week for sexual release. They do enjoy each other on vacations, but this is only once a year.

Believe it or not, Stacy and William have an anger problem in their relationship – even though it certainly isn’t obvious from the outside looking in. How could that be true if they never fight, there is never any yelling, shouting, or insults hurled, and they even show some public physical affection for each other?

Couples anger has at least six other ways it can be expressed without yelling or shouting

Some angry couples, of course, fight like cats and dogs – mean spirited, always arguing, putting each other down, and are downright nasty to each other. But couples also express anger to each other in at least six other ways. Although not as obvious, it is just as destructive in its other expressions as it can be for the high-conflict couple.

  • The Ostrich – Anger expressed as emotional avoidance. Ostriches withdraw when threatened and put their head in the sand. So do some marriage partners who refuse to deal with issues that are important to their partner or are insensitive to the emotional aspects of an argument. This often enrages the more “emotional” partner.
  • The Sniper – Anger expressed as constant or intense criticism. The sniper always thinks they are right or know better. They see their partner as a project to improve. They sometimes are put-down artists.
  • Shields Up and Red Alert – Anger expressed as defensiveness. This expression of anger is difficult to penetrate. Rather than deal with issues, partners spend all their energy defending themselves or what they have done (or didn’t do). They are not open to influence from their partner.
  • The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Anger expressed as passive aggressive. The passive aggressive has much anger or hostility but is unable or unwilling to express it directly. So, they get you behind your back!
  • The Silent Volcano – Anger expressed as holding resentment. Some people hold resentment for years and silently or indirectly punish their partners who may not even remember the offense any longer.
  • Here Comes The Judge – Anger expressed as contempt. Some partners hold themselves to be morally, intellectually, or socially superior to their spouse. They constantly judge their partner and are not open to the idea that their partner’s opinions or ways of doing things might also have value.