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Chances are you've engaged in at least one of these kinds of relationship sabotage.

January 28, 2015

When you’re mad at your significant other, do you give him a hug and say, “Hey, do you have a few minutes to talk?” If so, awesome: you can go read something else. But chances are you've engaged in at least one of these examples of relationship sabotage.

Three recent studies out of Baylor University identified two types of "disengagement," or toxic communication practices commonly used by fighting couples, and showed that each one is bad for your bond, but in different ways.

Here's what they are, and how you can avoid them.

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Sabotage Tactic 1: Withdrawal

What it is: Ever get so mad at your partner you’re literally at the point where you just want to power down and not utter a single a word? That’s known as withdrawal.

Why it happens: People withdraw when they feel criticized. It’s the more harmful type of disengagement because "When one partner withdraws, it may make the other angry, and this could escalate conflict,” explains study co-author Keith Sanford, PhD, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University. The researchers also found it's a tactic often used by partners who are bored or apathetic about the relationship. (Yikes.)

What you can do about it: Acknowledge that it's happening, and then find a time to talk, even if you feel like running away. “The next time you get upset with your partner, make an immediate mental note that this is when you typically withdraw, and instead, try and do the opposite,” says Seth Meyers, PsyD, author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription ($14, amazon.com). Remember that earlier example about giving him a hug and saying, “Hey, do you have a few minutes to talk about something that’s on my mind?” Do that.

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Sabotage Tactic 2: Passive Immobility

What it is: This is when you think, He knows I want him to pick up his magazines, keys, and headphones from the coffee table, so why is he not doing it? In other words, you expect your partner to be a mind-reader. “When people make this assumption, or when they want their partner to do something as a demonstration of love, they are less likely to communicate clearly and directly with their partner, which makes it more difficult to make progress to resolution,” Sanford says.

Why it happens: Assuming your partner can read your mind is often a sign that you have anxiety about your relationship, Sanford says.

What you can do about it: You may not even realize you're doing it. The next time your partner is driving you nuts, Sanford suggests asking yourself questions like, “What am I doing?” (answer: getting angry about X) “Why am I doing it?” and “What are my underlying concerns?” which can help you get a better understanding of what's actually bothering you. The additional question: "what are my partner's underlying concerns?" can also help you think about where your partner is coming from, leading to more understanding. Then, instead of standing idly by and hoping your partner will figure it out: tell him or her what's up.

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