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Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts: On Better Communication in Relationships


People often think that couples end up in counseling because of the big things: affairs, betrayal, irreconcilable differences. And while those things do lead people to a therapist's office, there's often a smaller, more insidious culprit that brings people to the brink of separation or divorce. It's words. The thousands of words that spill out of us every day. Like little drops of water or tiny grains of sand that can over time carve canyons into a mountain, our seemingly innocuous words have the power to shape our relationships for better or worse. The words we exchange with our partner on a daily basis can either build and reinforce a secure connection or they can slowly kill the intimacy that we once hoped to have.


I call this death by a thousand paper cuts. Most often, it's not the once-in-a-while big fights that will bring your relationship down. We all need to blow off steam sometimes and I would argue that at times big conflict is necessary in an honest relationship (though there are definitely ways to make those arguments more fruitful and less knock-down-drag-out). Instead, it's the criticism, snarkiness, side comments, sarcasm, and disdain that are far worse for your relationship. It is so easy to slip into this when we are comfortable with one another, and in some cultures it's actually a sign of closeness. But these types of words also display a lack of respect for one another and create an unsafe environment in your relationship. One of the low hanging fruits that I help couples with is learning how to identify and root out those toxic communication patterns and replace them with more effective and nurturing ways of communicating. This alone can shift the dynamic of your relationship in surprisingly effective ways.


The next time you catch yourself about to make a snarky comment, think twice and ponder: do I want to help or harm this person that I love? Is there another way to say this? It might feel like a tiny and inconsequential thing, but you could be doing yourself and your relationship a big favor.


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