How to Effectively Communicate in Relationships

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How to Effectively Communicate in Relationships in Recovery

How to Effectively Communicate in Relationships in Recovery

By:  Rick Fannin

Words are powerful.  Communication can move communities, influence cultures, and change history. Communication itself is defined as transferring information to produce greater understanding.  Effectively communicating is one of the most important life skills to learn.  Knowing how to communicate effectively can impact our personal and professional life.  How you communicate can determine your success in recovery or your risk of relapsing.

Communication is one of the most important aspects of all relationships.  Our words can unite us, divide us, pull others to us, or push them away.  Whether it is between couples, friends, family members, coworkers, or customers, the way we communicate with one another is communication is essential to how we get our individual needs met.  Communication is the foundation of all healthy relationships.

Too often, people don't communicate their feelings or their needs in healthy ways and are left feeling upset, unheard, not understood, and frustrated.  Negative communication leads to arguments, resentment, anger, physical violence, divorce, loss of family relationships, loss of friendships, and loss of happiness with oneself by not being able to get one's own needs met.  When a relationship is strained, conflicted, or broken somehow, it can't be healed without skillful communication.  Negative communication isolates us from others and leaves us alone.

Importance of Healthy Communication in Recovery

Communication is an essential part of the human experience.  However, good communication skills are vital for people in addiction recovery.  Good communication skills are the only way recovering addicts can make their needs clear and get them met without relying on substances.  By learning to express their wants and needs, and fears, the person in recovery is more likely to have increased sober support, reduced stress, decreased loneliness, healthy relationships, and increased success in recovery.

Good communication skills allow helping professionals, sponsors, and sober support effectively work with you, understand your needs, and help you achieve your goals in recovery.  Other people do not automatically know your needs, so you have to be able to tell them in a clear manner what you expect and desire.

When a person is in the midst of their addiction situation, they often become isolated from others.  Over time, they begin to avoid social interaction with others deliberately.  This doesn't normally resolve itself.  Professional help is required to help this person overcome the lack of social skills.  They must learn to look within themselves to gain self-awareness of the root cause of this behavior and then take proactive steps to learn more effective ways of dealing with daily situations without the need to hide away behind the curtain of drug-induced solitude.

On its most basic level, communication is a way to create and make changes in relationships in our lives.  It is also an important factor in helping build confidence and rebuild trust.  Good communication skills can be critical to success when apologizing or making amends to others.  A recovering addict must feel good about their ability to function within their social circles, at work, and within society.  The ability to interact effectively with others can go a long way in building this much-needed confidence level.  If a recovering addict is still feeling intimidated by the presence of others, they are more likely to suffer a relapse.

Communication is a vital skill in addiction recovery.  Good communication skills will allow you to find success not just in your recovery, but in all areas of your life.  Especially true for those who are returning back to the community after rehab.  This is a sensitive and challenging time for the individual and for those who will be offering support and guidance.  If the person can't express their fears, needs, or desires, the chance for relapse increases.

5 Types of Negative Communication Patterns

There are several different types and styles of communication.  There are both positive and negative ways to communicate.  Here are just a few examples of some negative communication patterns that I often see in relationships

The "explosive communicator" is when people let their feelings and emotions build up inside until they explode.  These individuals tend to stuff their feelings until the lid blows off and they explode.  When this happens, people usually yell, curse, and say horrible things to one another because they have been letting these feelings and emotions build up inside of them for an extended period.  These situations are destructive and very hurtful, not only to the targeted individual but to the overall relationship.

The "deflecting communicator" is when the person deflects from a discussion or an argument by refusing to engage with the subject matter at hand is an age-old trick.  Deflection, by definition, is a narcissistic abuse tactic used to frustrate and psychologically control the mind and emotions of a targeted victim.  Deflection is the art of mixing gaslighting with changing the subject to the point that whoever was foolish enough to care about what the deflector had to say is likely to be bewildered, frustrated, confused, or simply not caring anymore about trying to communicate.

The "blaming communicator" is someone who communicates by blaming others.  Instead of owning how they feel, they blame others for how they feel.  There isn't any positive communication that can take place when people blame one another.  Blaming causes people to get defensive, angry, and feel attacked.

The "silent communicator" is someone who never communicates how they feel and bottles their feelings.  This causes individuals to feel resentful and unhappy in their relationship because their needs are never being met.  It is almost impossible to get our needs met when we don't communicate what we need and how we feel.  Nobody is a mind reader.  If we don't tell one another what we need and how we are feeling, how are we supposed to get our individual needs met?

The "stonewall communicator" is slightly different from the silent communicator.  The stonewaller is a person who shuts down, fails to speak, won't make eye contact, and will not acknowledge what the other person has said in an argument or other type of conflict.  Many people turn into stonewallers when an argument or conversation overwhelms them.  For them, acting in this manner is a method of self-preservation, but stonewalling leaves others feeling rejected, dismissed, unimportant, and insignificant.  Stonewalling pushes others away, leaving the stonewaller isolated and alone behind these huge stonewalls they have built.

Healthy and Unhealthy Communication Styles

Multiple factors influence how we interact with others.  One of the most important factors you should know is your communication style.  Each of the above patterns fits within four types of communication styles.

You can do several things to improve your effectiveness at communicating.  The first step is to become aware of and build an understanding of the different communication styles.  There are four different communication styles: assertive, passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive.

The style of communication we adopt is influenced by relationships we have, our attachment style, the way others around us communicate, whether or not they have experienced abuse or trauma, their culture, and many other factors.  Having a partner with a communication style that is different than yours is quite common.  A healthy relationship requires the needs of both partners to be heard, expressed, respected and met.

Take the free communication style quiz to learn which style of communication you typically utilize.

Passive Communication Style

A passive communication style occurs when individuals tend not to express their feelings or opinions to others.  People take on a passive communication style for various reasons.  Sometimes it's to protect them out of fear of confrontation.  Other times, they have a genuinely laid-back personality and like to go with the flow.

People partaking in a passive communication style may have a higher tolerance for others' behaviors.  A passive communication style tends to involve compromise more and allow the other person to have their way, sometimes leaving the person using a passive communication style feeling unfulfilled.  For example, when your partner is having a bad day, you may choose to take a passive stance on an issue you're having with them.  You may think to yourself, "eh, I don't need to bother them with this today; it will be there tomorrow," but tomorrow never comes.  Or, if your friend has finally found someone they are connecting with, you may choose to tell them your good news next time so as not to take away from their shining moment.

When encountering a perceived aggressive communication style, a passive communication style may find themselves agreeing when they actually disagree or have something to add to the conversation.  Often, the passive communication style channels the fear of confrontation in an attempt to avoid making the seemingly aggressive communication style more hostile.

Passive communication is when you ignore or mask the truth about how you feel or what you want, usually as a way to avoid conflict.  While passive communication often feels good in the moment because it makes you look self-sacrificing and generous, it always fails in the long run because it's fundamentally dishonest.

A relationship built on lies, even nice ones, will eventually fall apart.  The passive communicator will inevitably become resentful because their needs aren't being met.  They'll also feel guilty because, on some level, they know they should be honest.

Consistently using this communication style can reinforce passive behaviors and send a message to those around them that their needs don't matter as much as others' needs.  Continuous passive communication style may lead to suppressed emotions causing unhealthy interactions with others.  Their passive nature may drive them to avoid that person.  A passive communication style may feel voiceless like they don't matter or are uncherished.  They may eventually feel like they are being taken advantage of, that their partner "just isn't listening," or resentful to their partner because they feel the relationship is uneven.

Passive Communication Style Examples:

  • Failure to speak up for oneself
  • Not saying what you mean or how you really feel
  • Speaking softly or apologetically
  • Poor eye contact and shrinking body posture
  • Allowing others' to consistently get their needs met over their own
  • Avoiding conflict at all costs
  • Ignoring situations that need to be handled sooner than later

Using a passive communication style has a negative effect.  It may lead to feeling out of control, which can be anxiety-provoking.  Hopelessness or depressed thoughts may ensue.  Due to the hopelessness or depressing thoughts, a passive communication style sees no point in asking for their needs to be met.

In essence, taking on learned helplessness, which looks to the outsider like a passive-aggressive communication style.  The passive communication style does not ask for their needs to be met; the aggressive communication style holds resentment.

The key to overcoming a passive communication style is to learn that your fear of conflict is overstated and that your personal needs are understated.  It would be best if you learned on a deep level that you can be honest about what you want and need, and things will be okay

Being honest with yourself and your own wants and needs doesn't have to mean conflict or disrespect to others.  Train yourself to communicate confidently and with integrity, and your relationships will flourish.

Aggressive Communication Style

Aggressive communication style is when you state your needs to leave little to no room for the needs of others who are involved in the conversation.  Aggression tends to come from a place of insecurity and self-centeredness.  An aggressive communicator behaves as if their contribution to the conversation is more important than anyone else.  The content of their message gets lost because of the tone of their delivery.

The aggressive communication style commonly arises when you feel threatened, perhaps when you feel as though your best interest is in jeopardy.  Aggressive people may come off as verbally abusive to others.

Importantly, aggression is usually not the result of pure malice or a psychopathic lack of empathy; instead, it's a reaction to fear and insecurity.  People with a chronically aggressive communication style have learned to use anger and aggression to deal with their insecurities and fears.

Unfortunately, because it's so harmful to others, they end up even more insecure and fearful than when they started because all of their relationships are strained.  Aggressive people become frustrated that they cannot communicate effectively and as the frustration rises, so does the anger, aggression, and hostility.  This hostility triggers their partner's fight or flight instinct and the need to protect themselves.

Aggressive Communication Style Examples:

  • Speaking in a loud and overbearing voice
  • Criticizing others
  • Using humiliation to control others
  • Attempts to dominate
  • Frequent interruption
  • "You" statements
  • Easily triggered temper

People who use an aggressive communication style may alienate themselves from others, confirming that they have something to be insecure about by producing fear or hatred in others.  Not wanting to face these insecurities, aggressive people often struggle to take responsibility for their actions, making it difficult to learn from situations and get the support and love they desire.

The key to working through an aggressive communication style is self-awareness.  Specifically, you must notify the initial fear and helplessness that precedes anger and cultivate healthier ways to address it.  Pause before you react aggressively.  When you build the confidence to acknowledge your fears, you won't need aggression to cover them up.  Becoming more mindfully aware allows you to stop reacting and begin responding assertively.

Passive-Aggressive Communication Style:

Passive-Aggressive communication style appears to be passive, but they act out angrily in indirect ways behind the scenes.  The passive-aggressive person is too afraid to be honest and too angry to be quiet, so they resort to veiled threats and sarcastic humor to express themselves.  People who develop this communication style also tend to fear confrontation, indirectly dealing with difficult situations, which may look like they're "sneaky" to others.  Instead of directly asking for their needs to be met, a passive-aggressive communication style will show their negative emotions in subtle and frequent harmful behaviors.

Recall that passive communication involves being overly deferential to other people and dishonest with yourself.  In contrast, aggressive communication is the opposite, being honest about your own wishes but in a way that's disrespectful to others.  The third toxic form of communication, passive-aggressive, is the worst of both worlds: dishonest to yourself and disrespectful to others.

Passive-Aggressive Communication Style Examples:

  • Sarcasm
  • Subtle sabotage
  • Pretending to be cooperative while subconsciously doing tasks incorrectly
  • Mumbling to themselves instead of confronting the person
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Talking behind someone's back
  • Quitting unexpectedly with no explanation

The passive-Aggressive communication style experiences a lot of the same negative effects that come with aggression and passivity.  Short-term, a passive-aggressive communication style can be a much better alternative to acting out negative emotions such as rage.

Frequently, a passive-aggressive communication style is subtle and may go unnoticed, leading to a vicious cycle of conflict avoidance and conflict.  For example, to relax after a hard day's work, a partner will come up with excuses that allow them to put off chores they promised they'd complete.  In this situation, the partner avoids a potential fight they think will come due to putting off what they said they'd do.  In a healthy interaction, if the partner directly states they are exhausted from their day and they need a few minutes to unwind before they jump into chores, the other partner will be okay with this and show them empathy.  Instead, avoiding conflict will most likely lead to conflict, thus reinforcing that it is not safe to share their thoughts and feelings.  The partner may have avoided a fight at the moment, but they didn't give their partner the chance to understand their needs and meet them.

The key to undoing a passive-aggressive communication style is to address your anger and fears in more productive ways.

The most practical thing you can do to eliminate passive-aggressive communication is to simply stop using sarcasm.  Sarcasm is a crutch that prevents us from speaking our minds honestly and directly, and at the same time, an instrument for trying to make others do what we want.

It's not necessarily easy but cut the sarcasm out of your life, and your relationships will improve dramatically.

Manipulative Communication Style

Manipulation was often necessary for the person in active addiction to be able to continue to feed their addiction.  This style of communication uses cunning, lies, manipulation, guilt, and shame to influence and control the outcome of the conversation and thus the actions of the people around them.  Manipulative communicators rarely say what they mean.  Instead, they will bury their real goals within layers of obfuscation to get their way without the other person even realizing it.

Many people utilize manipulative forms of communication when there are underlying feelings of pain, fear, and shame.  People will often communicate in a manipulative style because they have never learned productive ways to express emotions and communicate needs and healthy ways to get these needs met.  Much of manipulative communication is based on the transference of responsibility.  The recipient "should" carry the weight of the communicator's feelings & personal situation.

Although a passive-aggressive style can border on manipulative, the two styles differ.  Someone using a manipulative style will actively do things in a planned and unscrupulous way to ensure their needs get met.  Maybe they selectively withhold information from one party they provide to another one because they can anticipate the conflict that will cause and how it'll result in things going the way they want them to go.  It's a controlling style in which the manipulator places themselves above everyone else—like a puppet master pulling the strings that make all the puppets move according to their master plan.

Manipulative Communication Style Examples:

  • "If you really cared about me then…"
  • "I did this for you so you should…."
  • "That's awesome you won those tickets to the concert. I can't wait for us to go." (Assumed invitation)
  • "You are so lucky to have those chocolates, I wish I had some. I can't afford such expensive chocolates." (Guilting into sharing)
  • "I didn't have time to buy anything, so I had to wear this dress. I just hope I don't look to awful in it." (Fishing for a compliment.)
  • "I couldn't live with myself if I did something like that and didn't apologize." (Shaming someone into an apology)
  • "I don't know how you can live with yourself for what you did to me." (Fishing for an apology)

While the manipulative communication style may work in the short term, it will not work in the long run.  Eventually, the hidden motives and deception is revealed.  This style leaves others feeling used and taken advantage of, causing hurt feelings, arguments, and fights.  Eventually, the manipulator is left alone with no one to manipulate but themselves.

Assertive Communication Style:

The three toxic communication styles—passiveaggressive, and passive-aggressive—never work in the long run.  Using an assertive communication style is the communication type that tends to be effective in most situations.  Assertive communication means having the courage to clearly and firmly express their needs and/or opinions and do it in a respectful way to others.

Assertive communication entails being aware of your values and mindful of your own emotions and personal needs while also considering someone else's values, feelings, and needs.  Since they are in tune with their needs and work to get them met, assertive people can empathize with others.

A hallmark of assertive communication is the use of "I" statements, such as "I feel like dismissed and what I have to see is not important when I am interrupted " rather than "You need to stop interrupting me.  You don't even care what I have to say.".

Assertive Communication Style Examples:

  • Expressing needs clearly, respectfully, and appropriately
  • "I" Statements
  • Active Listening- listening without interrupting and reflecting on what you've heard.
  • Speaking calmly
  • Good eye-contact
  • Relaxed body posture
  • Feeling in control
  • Empathy

Assertive communication can be a tough skill to master because it requires a lot of self-control.  Emotions make us human, and they can get the best of us, which can happen when communicating.  Intense emotions can lead to unhealthy interactions with others if unmanaged.  Practicing mindfulness can help master an assertive communication style.  Assertive communication usually feels like they have control over their lives through taking responsibility for their issues as they arise.  Therefore, helping people maintain healthy relationships, mental health, and overall well-being.

Tips for Healthy Communication

Healthy communication is not easy for any of us and takes self-awareness, effort, patience, and consistency.  No one is perfectly communicating all the time.  Individually, we must consciously commit to practicing what we say and how we say things.  Here are a few examples and tips about healthy communication that I use in my life and that I encourage others to utilize in their relationships.

Effective communication is an essential skill for achieving success in all areas of life, whether personal or professional.  Communication skills breed confidence and optimism, which are two character traits that enable you to accomplish your goals.  Some people find that communication comes naturally; it's more difficult for others.  But if you fall into the latter category, you can learn to master the skill of communication with practice and time.  The challenge of how to be an effective communicator gets far easier when you follow these ten steps:

Identify Your Objectives
What do you hope to accomplish, either immediately or long term?  What action or response from your audience will show that you have communicated successfully?  Understanding your objectives will help shape your communication style and make you more effective.

Listen Actively
Communication isn't just about what you say.  If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.  Try not to focus so much on what you have to say that you miss their important comments, emotions, and reactions.  Likewise, when others speak, listen and process what they're trying to communicate instead of planning your response.  When everyone is actively involved, communication is far more effective.

Note Your Body Language
Communication involves not just the words you speak but also what your body is saying.  Your body language can send a stronger message than your words without realizing it.  If you sit or stand with your shoulders hunched and your arms folded across your chest, you show that your guard is up and you're unwilling to have productive, two-way discussions.  Alternatively, when you sit or stand up straight with your arms at your sides or relax into a more casual pose, you project openness and a willingness to communicate—before you've said a single word.


Respecting what others have to say and acknowledging them is an important aspect of communication.  Being respectful can be as simple as paying attention to what they have to say, using the person's name, and not being distracted.  By respecting others, the other person will feel appreciated, which will lead to a more honest and productive conversation.


In situations where you disagree with what someone else has to say, whether with a spouse, child, family member, friend, employer,  or coworker, it is important to sympathize with their point of view rather than only try to get your message across.  Respect the opinion of others and never resort to demeaning those who disagree with you.

Pace Yourself
Pay attention to how quickly you're speaking and whether your audience appears to be processing what you're saying.  Slow down if necessary and vary the volume and rhythm of your speech to hold their attention.  It's important to deliberately repeat important points a few times to make sure your listeners hear what you have to say.

Choose the Right Time
If you're planning to ask your boss for a raise, make sure they are in a receptive mood.  If there's a big problem on the production line or your company has lost a big account, it's not the best time to discuss the subject.  So, whether you're planning to deliver good or bad news or simply presenting a new idea that requires energy and focus, be aware of your audience's mindset.  Timing is a big factor in successful communication.

Put Away Distractions

There is something to be said for eye contact and for someone leaning into the interaction attentively while you are discussing a topic that you feel is important.  It sends a clear message they are present and available.  Having a conversation with someone who is distracted by a cell phone, people walking by, and/or spinach stuck in their teeth sends a very different message in how they are prioritizing the conversation/ information you are attempting to relay.


Convey your message in as few words as possible.  Do not use filler words and get straight to the point.  Rambling will cause the listener to tune out or be unsure of what you are talking about.  Avoid speaking excessively and do not use words that may confuse the audience.

Be Clear
Don't spend too much time setting up your idea or request.  Communicate your needs and desires clearly.  You'll not only avoid misunderstandings, but you'll also earn respect through your honesty and clarity and have a greater chance of accomplishing your goal.

Great communicators choose their words well, understand their audience, and connect with them at the right time and place.  By applying these tips and practicing often, you can master the skills and learn how to be an effective communicator.


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