Successful dating requires you to be aware of how you come across to others. Specifically, you need to know the way you express your feelings; what triggers you to feel angry; and how you respond to criticism. As great as any relationship may be, there will inevitably be days down the road where you upset each other. If you are aware of your specific communication style, as well as your specific reaction style, you will be better prepared to handle any relationship hiccups like a cool and collected grownup!
Types of communication styles…
Your communication style refers to how you express your needs and your feelings. The examples will make these abstract concepts more clear.
1. The verbally expressive style
If you communicate this way, you use words to express your positive and negative feelings. When your date hurts you, you use your words to explain how they hurt you; when you feel good toward your partner, you describe your positive feelings verbally.
2. Using physical gestures
If this is your communication style, you’re not big on words but you use your body and gestures to convey your needs or explain how you feel. When your date hurts you, you clam up, withhold physical affection, don’t hold eye contact, or make faces; when you feel good toward your partner, you touch her a lot, want to be physically close to her, and make intimate advances.
3. Using money or other tangible entities
If you communicate this way, you use tangible things to express what you need and how you feel. If you’re sick, you leave the prescription on the kitchen counter so your partner knows you’re sick and you won’t need to come out and say it. When your partner hurts you, you cancel going out to dinner or, when making dinner for yourself, you won’t make dinner for him, too; when you feel good toward your partner, you buy her flowers, bring her dinner or ice cream, and plan trips for the two of you.
Which of these communication styles is best? The verbally expressive style! If you have one of the other styles, however, fear not. Be honest with your date about your communication style so that you can prevent making the same mistakes this time: “I have a history of not expressing myself verbally when I’m upset, so I might need you to be patient with me and help me in that department.” This way, you show that you are aware of your issues and actively working on them. Simply put, this kind of insight is a huge turn-on for your dates.
Types of reaction styles
Your reaction style refers to how you handle criticism. It is absolutely necessary that you know what your reaction style is so that you don’t keep reacting the same way you did in your previous failed relationships. (Remember, there’s nothing wrong with a failed relationship as long as you make sure you learned from it!) Take a look at the reaction styles below and ask yourself which is your current style.
1. The defensive reaction style
If this is your reaction style, you tend to deflect any criticism and flip it around on the person you’re dating. At root, you don’t ever want to hear any criticism from your partner, as opposed to accepting that dealing with conflicts is a reality for any intimate, grown-up relationship. You may have a history of being nagged at by someone else, and you’ve grown tired of it; you may have watched a parent get defensive with you, and you’ve ended up doing the same thing with your romantic partners.
2. The passive-aggressive style
If this is the way you react to criticism, you don’t express your feelings directly. When your partner upsets you, you may give them the silent treatment or express your anger in any of the following passive-aggressive ways: you don’t share details about a forthcoming social event; you arrive late to pick them up; you get home from work a couple hours late; or you say something provocative or demeaning about them in front of others. People who have this type of reaction style must be very careful because most partners will eventually leave someone who is passive-aggressive. If this is your reaction style, try really hard to be more direct so that your loved ones don’t accumulate a boatload of resentment toward you and eventually leave the relationship.
3. The accepting style
The best reaction style is to be accepting, at least while the criticism is being issued. When your partner says something critical of you, listen and ask for some examples so that you understand what they mean; later, reflect on what they said and decide if what they said is fair or accurate. As an aside, men and women who have this reaction style aren’t well-adjusted because they are inherently amazing people. Instead, these healthy individuals have an accepting reaction style because they received positive, supportive parenting as children or because they got a lot of good therapy as adults which helped them learn how to be consistently supportive and loving in a relationship.
Final analysis: Regardless of which communication and reaction style you have now, understand that you can change this if you want. The first step is to gain insight into the communication and reaction styles you have now.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.