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How Communication in Relationships Break Down

Lori values relationships and is always seeking ways to improve communication skills.

No One Is Perfect

No one is perfect. Everyone has one sort of communication problem or another. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of books that give us direction on good communication skills. Plenty of talk radio with psychologists tell us how to and how not to communicate with family, friends, and people in general. Yet still, we so often get it wrong.

Today I'd like to explore the biggest no-nos in communication. And let me just say that I have done, and still sometimes do use these bad forms of communication. They seem to be ingrained in us. But that is no excuse.

The following communication methods are signs of disrespect, arrogance, superiority, and meanness. I hope we can all be willing to examine ourselves and be willing to change. That is my prayer for myself as well as others.

Facial and Head Expressions

Eye Rolling

This is probably the most disrespectful, humiliating, silent expression on the planet. And though it's audibly silent, the visual message is powerful. Eye rolling is an instinctual behavior. But it's hurtful, therefore wrong. The message: "This person is lame, stupid, clueless, and annoying."

Shaking Your Head

This can be just as rude in certain situations. It is shaming and judgmental toward someone's comments or actions. The message: "You don't have a clue; you're stupid, I can do that a thousand times better than you."

No Eye Contact

This may not sound so bad, but when someone is talking to you, especially about something serious, it can send the message that the speaker, his thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and the issue itself, is either lame, boring, or you just don't care. You'd rather be anywhere than be in front of this person. They say the opposite of love is not to hate, but indifference.

The Smirk

Very hurtful. The message: That you are amused at someone's idiocy (in your opinion), or that you are enjoying their misfortune. Often times there is a third party present who is in on the smirking. Humiliating!

Looking Down Your Nose

Visually, this look is where you are lowering your chin and looking at the speaker over your glasses. Whether you are actually wearing glasses or not, the expression is demeaning. The message: "Are you kidding me? Are you serious? You don't know what you're talking about." Even if the speaker is misinformed or extremely off the wall, there is no need to look down your nose at them.

Scrunch Face

If the speaker is speaking about something obviously gross or in some way unpleasant, and it's evident the speaker feels the same way, this is a moot point. But sometimes the speaker is seriously talking about something that they recognize is not pleasant but needs your affirmation of something neutral at the very least. The message: "You are as disgusting as the subject matter." Having said this, people should refrain from really heinous disgusting, graphic things - TMI's.


Yawning cannot be helped most of the time, but there are times when bored and we yawn. The message: "You are boring, your subject matter has no appeal to me, I want to go home and take a nap."

Rude Sounds


Sighing sends the message that you are put out or you are enduring something with great distress. You are the martyr (a very ugly characteristic). This happens a lot with children to their parents, and between husbands and wives. Sometimes you get it from customer service people.


Tsking can be an expression of pity (Oh, you poor little thing), or "You should be ashamed of yourself." Neither one is kind.

Tight-Lipped Raspberry

This is hard to describe. I've never heard a name for it. But it's when you have your lips tightly together and you blow between them making a funny noise. The idea is you're stifling a laugh. This noise also often goes with eye-rolling or head shaking. The message is "How ridiculous!" "That's lame," "That's so stupid." Another humiliation style of communication.

Disrespectful Expressions


"Ha! Are you kidding me?" Or "Ha! that'll be the day"; "Ha! he finally got his"; or "Ha, I told you so." Derisive expressions like this wound and shame. The message: "You are stupid."

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Oh My God!

The message here is, like many of the others, that what you've just heard is ridiculous, stupid, or shocking (when it shouldn't be). Eye rolling and other visual expressions also often go in tandem with this expression. And FYI, it has nothing whatsoever to do with God. His name is holy, and this is as much taking the Lord's name in vain as GD or JC.

Really? Are you kidding me? Are you serious? I don't believe this!

Yes, they probably are and you are not superior to the speaker. This is an expression of incredulity that anyone could be so stupid and delusional. Sometimes there are situations when these expressions are appropriate, but most often they are hurtful.


Not okay. It's on the top ten list of the most disrespectful expressions. This expression is mostly used in an argument, or to prevent the escalation of an argument. Let me ask you - is it working for you? It may stop the argument, but you have done further damage to the relationship. The message says, "You're feelings and opinions are stupid, lame, and I don't care enough resolving the issues because you're a jerk, you're wrong, and I'm right and unworthy of you.

Ya Think?

You are effectively saying "You're a moron!" "You don't know what you're talking about." It also implies that only you and the rest of the world know everything. Another of the top ten on disrespectful comments. This hurts and humiliates.

Ya right! As if! You're clueless!

Another "you're a moron," comment. "You don't know what you're talking about."

You Always or You Never

This is one of the most instinctual expressions known to man. I must admit, I have to work very hard at this one with certain people. I'm making good headway, but every once in a while it creeps on. It is very ineffective in resolving a conflict. It's a blaming expression. Blaming in conflict is never effective. The fact is likely that the person may not always or never, just a lot. But that's not the point.

You Should or You Shouldn't

Another ingrained comment. While it may be true (or close to it), people don't like to be told what to do in this manner. It's ineffective in conflict resolution.

Body Language and Gestures

Arms Folded

In the movie 'Saving Mr. Banks," Pamela (JP) Travers, the rigid, uptight, unyielding writer of Mary Poppins reluctantly accompanies Walt Disney on a tour of the Magic Kingdom. Determined not to show any weakness, she folds her arms and scowls to show her host she is not feeling the magic and has no intention of doing so. Message: "I am closed to whoever or whatever is going on." It can also mean, "I'm angry." This can be instinctual and unconscious. Little children often do this accompanied by a scowl and a pouting lower lip. Sometimes, I just find it a comfortable position.

Hands-On the Hips

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E!!! If you use this in a humorous situation it's not a biggie, usually. But I've seen little girls use this to be sassy or bossy. They are emulating someone - could it be you?

The Slouch

I saw Justin Beiber doing this recently in the video where he was giving a deposition. Every time the attorney asked a question he slouched, averted, and/or rolled his eyes. What disrespect! This is a strong message that you are not only disinterested, and think that whatever is going on is unimportant, but that you don't care, because you are so above the other person. It is a common body position of a teen or young person with a bad attitude, but certainly not exclusively.


This is usually done in anger and used to threaten, intimidate, or blame. It is physically a very aggressive action and the pointer is usually hostile. If the pointer is over the top hostile, his finger gets way too close to the face. This could instigate a violent altercation or absolutely intimidate someone into submissive fear.

Flipping the Bird

People that use this gesture regularly fail to show the world they have any intelligence. It's like people who consistently, and liberally, pepper their speech with F-bombs. This gesture is usually used in anger - especially in traffic situations. But now I see young people using it in photos on FB. You've seen them - a group of young people all smiling, laughing, and jeering and at least one or two is flipping the bird. Gee, that sure is cute - NOT! Grow up!

Pointing is used to threaten, intimidate, or blame.

Pointing is used to threaten, intimidate, or blame.

Two Against One

The Whisper Behind the Hand

This one takes me back to second grade while on the playground, and two of the "popular" kids decide I'm the lamest thing in the whole world. You've probably done it, and had it done to you. The instigator and her sidekick decide to humiliate a vulnerable kid by whispering to each other and giggling and maybe pointing a little. In actuality, the whispering is just loud enough sometimes for the vulnerable person to hear derisive comments or gossip about them. Let's get real, adults do this once in a while too, but perhaps in a more subdued manner. Perhaps you walk into a room or go by two people who are whispering and they see you coming and smirk, or wink, whisper another word or two, then stop abruptly when you walk by. That feels just awful. We have all done it, and we've all experienced it.

The Attitude Behind These Communications

Most of the communication actions I've written about here are due to bad attitude and disrespect. We have all been the recipient and the donor, haven't we? Why do we say and do these things? Is there something deeper?

Fear! Fear is the predominant reason people communicate this way. Bullies are afraid, vulnerable people are afraid, arguing people are afraid. Many of these communication methods occur as a defense mechanism. Bullies are insecure, so before someone can hurt them, they hurt first.

Conflict in personal relationships causes fear in us and we use some terrible communication methods to protect ourselves. Protecting ourselves is often done by hurting the other person and disarming them. "Whatever!" can stop an argument on a dime, but the damage done is terrible. Resolving the conflict has just been set way back.

Disrespectful actions and comments are often evidence of a serious anger problem. Reduce the anger to the lowest common denominator and you have, once again, fear. But fear is no excuse to be unkind, hurtful and disrespectful. Just because a man grew up with an abusive father doesn't mean he is exempt from taking responsibility for his own abusive behavior. His anger is an explanation, but not an excuse.

We often hurt others to make ourselves feel more important. If you can make that person everyone seems to like more than you look bad by being hurtful, then you delude yourself into thinking you have just elevated yourself in others' esteem.

It is common for people to value being right over the good of the relationship. So many couples end up in divorce court because one or both always had to be right. This is called pride. The idea of humbling themselves and working together toward a solution is foreign. Sadly, sometimes one spouse is consistently more resistant to humility than the other and the humble spouse's best efforts aren't enough to save the marriage. It takes both parties being humble at some point. Is being right, alone and bitter, better than being wrong, admitting it, and enjoying a close relationship? This is called meekness, not weakness. Meekness is not being a spineless milk toast; it is exercising self-control.

Humility (not humiliation) is a crucial component in healthy relationships - period. If one cannot be humble, teachable, willing to take responsibility for their actions and reactions, then that one can expect to be miserable and it is guaranteed they will make others miserable too.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Lori Colbo

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