The Four Traps of Communication

Communication is key to unlocking a growing, adaptable relationship with trust, closeness, and intimacy. When communication goes array, at least one of the four taboos of interaction has taken place. The relationship becomes stuck in a rut and trust and affection is broken. He runs away and avoids conflict and she latches on with more force and power. The relationship is headed into a cat and mouse chase, separation, withdrawal, affair(s), or therapy.

While seeing a therapist, the four communication pitfalls can be addressed and the relationship can become close and intimate again.

The four pitfalls in communication include:

  1. Criticism
  2. Demanding
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Angry outburst

What is criticism?

Criticism is unconsciously belittling another. It is assessing and disapproving of another. Without awareness, you feel superior and your spouse feels condemned.

Sure, criticism can be rationalized as helpful advice, constructive feedback, or behavior modification, yet any perception of ‘improving’ another is based on an agenda to change and a need to be right. Judging and blaming preface criticism which all lead to distance, distrust, and defensiveness. The relationship stalls and doesn’t improve.

Criticism involves looking at your partner as an extension of you. Rejecting and forbidding your partner to be a separate, autonomous person is pathological and unhealthy. With an agenda to change and a need to be right, your self-esteem rises and your partners’ confidence deflates. Most often criticism continues because giving up your position would feel like you have to give up a portion of yourself, which can feel all consuming, dominating, and threatening.

The solution is not to criticize. Instead, talk from a feeling perspective about your inner world, about the event and the behavior that triggers such disapproval.

What is demanding?

Demanding is acting domineering, controlling, and ridiculing. Similar to criticism, being demanding is not constructive and does not benefit the receiver.

Demanding results most often in your partner becoming passive-aggressive and punishing you for your demands. It’s a vicious cycle of retaliation with intense anger and pushing away.

The solution is to pause when a demanding thought enters your brain and count from one to ten. Give yourself time to think before speaking and assess what soft spot was hit that brought forth this demand. Talk to your partner when you are calm and clear in your understanding of your inner world.

What is defensiveness?

Defensiveness is a reaction to justify your behavior and serves to protect. Most often it functions to make yourself feel better and make your partner wrong. The defensive behavior usually results in blaming, criticizing, or counterattacking. Defensiveness is vented with anger and protects against pain, shame, guilt and fear.

Defensiveness may also result in withdrawal. Similar to anger, isolation is used to protect you from feeling pain, shame, guilt, and fear. Withdrawal produces distance and disconnection.

The solution is to share your feelings about your internal psyche that was stirred-up during the particular event. Express how it made you feel about yourself, the relationship, and what sensitive area from your past was ignited.

What is uncontrolled anger?

Uncontrolled anger is vented with raised voices, yells of derogatory names, and can lead to physical violence – throwing dishes, grabbing and shaking, pushing, and beating. If an interaction has reached the point of vented anger, it is time to stop, take a break and reconvene when you have calmed down and can talk with a normal tone all the while staying away from criticizing, demanding, and defensiveness.

It is important to stay away from the four taboos of communication to develop an evolving, growing relationship with trust, closeness, and intimacy. Following the rules of communication couples can learn to understand, empathize, and attune respectfully to each other’s triggers.

If your communication is falling into the trap of criticism, domination, defensiveness, and uncontrolled anger, give me a call (424) 258-5416 or email me at and let’s begin a course of action so that you may find each other again.