Differences Between Good Communication and Bad Communication - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 8, 2014

Differences Between Good Communication and Bad Communication

Good communication, while not the foundation of your relationship, is what makes your relationship run more smoothly.

Communication is like the plumbing and electricity in our homes. Without them, we can function, but it’s not much fun or very easy. And, if we’ve got bad pipes or wires, things can get pretty ugly.

Ultimately, good communication happens when we are happy and close with our partners.

Have you ever noticed when you’re feeling connected, you can easily overlook how imperfect your partner might say things or that you just “get” what they’re trying to say?

And, have you noticed that when you’re feeling distant or resentful toward your partner, everything they say is somehow hurtful or misunderstood?

So, if you want good communication, work toward maintaining a close, happy relationship. To read more about maintaining a close connection, see my other article, “Building and Keeping a Close Relationship.”

Still, repeated bad communication can really tear down a relationship and so it is useful to have good techniques for managing communication.

We can all be better communicators and the following article outlines some useful tools for improving your communication.

What is Bad Communication?

We all know when it’s bad. The miscommunications pile up and we feel more and more frustrated. Bad communication sets us up for hurt feelings or unmet expectations. Bad communication contains some of the following:

1. Resistance – The act of resisting most things your partner is trying to tell you, ask of you or suggest to you (especially around areas of health, finances, family matters, or self destructive behaviors).

2. Defensiveness – The same as resistance but adding either blame, return criticism or avoiding the issue.

3. Stonewalling – Actively ignoring your partner when they’re talking to you either by leaving the room or turning head or eyes away (more than just distraction; an obvious act of rejection).

4. Arguing – Arguing isn’t effective communication. It isn’t necessarily bad or even a predictor of divorce; it’s just not good communication. It’s usually laced with defensiveness and criticism.

5. Listening through filters – We all have filters (intoxication, being too tired, emotionally triggered, etc.). The problem is when we don’t recognize or acknowledge them. Once acknowledged, we have a choice on how to respond. See below for more information on filters.

6. Being indirect/unclear – Human beings can get into the bad habit of being really unclear when they communicate. We drop a hint and hope our partners pick up on it. If you want something done or heard, be very clear and specific.

7. Being Critical/Harsh/Name calling – This sounds like obvious bad communication but it’s labeled in our minds as things like: “It’s just how I feel!” or “I was just mad.” But the damage of criticism, name calling or being harsh runs deep and too much of it can really destroy trust, closeness and respect in a relationship.

What is Good Communication?

Good communication is more subtle than bad communication. We often feel like a conversation went well but we don’t necessarily know why or, really, we don’t care; we’re just happy it did.

1. Validating – This is the act of acknowledging what your partner is saying by nodding, making soothing sounds or saying things like “I can see why you feel that way” or “You really have a good point.”

2. Making requests/not complaints – While complaints aren’t necessarily bad, complaining isn’t the most effective communication. It is more direct and clear to make a request rather than just complain. Instead of saying something like, “I hate it when you don’t clean off the stove when you clean the kitchen!” say: “Honey, can you also wipe off the stove when you’re cleaning up?” It’s clearer and gives the person something they can take action on.

3. Listening to understand – Listening to understand is often what we naturally do with a good friend or even a stranger.

Somehow after a few years with our partners, we stop listening to understand and start half listening while rehearsing what we want to say in the back of our minds.

Listening to understand means quieting your mind, being present and seeking to really hear what your partner is trying to tell you.

It means suspending your judgment for a moment and listening as if what they’re saying is not personal to you. Yes, this is difficult.

But, I guarantee that this is the SINGLE most powerful listening technique you can use. You will be amazed at how much better your communication goes when you pause, really listen and show your partner you heard what s/he said.

4. Correcting/Repairing miscommunication– We aren’t perfect human beings. We say the wrong things; we say hurtful things; we aren’t clear at times. Correcting or repairing miscommunication is a powerful way to connect, build mutual trust and try again.

You can always go back, restate things, apologize and try again. There’s no shame in admitting that we got a piece of communication wrong. Your partner will in most cases appreciate the correction.

5. Emotional Attunement – This is basically sharing someone’s emotional space for a bit; what other researchers have called “Stepping into the Puddle” with our partners (Love & Stosny, 2007).

For example, say you come home and find your partner upset or tearful about their day. It would not make sense to walk by, whistling and go about your evening without acknowledging the space s/he is in.

Good communication includes matching your partner’s emotional space by expressing empathy, comfort and attention. interested in this topic or bored by it?

– Voice tone – Am I scared by this voice tone? Does this voice tone remind me of my mother/father or does it just annoy me?

– Time – Either time of day or how much time you have

– Mood – Are you in a good mood/bad mood at the time of communication?

– Noise and distractions – Loud noises or crying babies tend to prevent good communication

– Body language and gestures – Do you feel threatened by angry gestures or when someone isn’t looking directly at you when you’re talking? Does it remind you of something negative in the past?

– Values and Beliefs – If someone is talking about something that is in contrast your values and beliefs, this often prevents you from hearing what they’re actually saying.

– Physical sensations (tired, hungry or in pain/discomfort)—People often have difficulty communicating effectively when feeling any of these things.

– Intoxicated with alcohol or drugs – Usually substances trigger the most emotional part of the brain which prevents having rational discussions.

– Past arguments – “This is the argument we always have and it always goes like this…

– Past hurts, disappointments or unmet expectations – Talking about a topic that is particularly hurtful, unresolved and/or disappointing often puts us in a space where we misunderstand our partner or think they’re saying something they’re not.

Exercise One:

Write down what filters and emotional triggers you are susceptible to.




Write down ways you can let your partner know you’re listening through a filter.

These might be things like, “Honey, I’m really tired right now; I know I’m not going to be a good listener” or “This topic really bugs me; you’re going to have to be really clear and gentle if we’re going to get through this.”




About the author

Karen Holland

Karen Holland is a marriage counselor, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, specializing in marriage counseling, couples counseling, pre-marital counseling and family counseling. She teaches couples how to get along, be good friends and lovers and create a marriage for a lifetime.

She has several years of experience and training with family of origin issues, improving couple/marital relationships, healing trauma, and learning how to better manage your emotions.

She works with a variety of marriage and family issues such as infidelity, communication problems, parenting, family concerns, interracial relationships, and step-families.

For more information, visit www.reinventingrelationships.com.


Gottman, J. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press, NY.

Love, P. & Stosny, S. (2007). How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About It. Broadway Books, NY.