Communication: Avoid the Labels

As I’m sure we all know about relationships, communication is key. But, it’s not just important that you know TO communicate. It’s also important that you know HOW to communicate. Although I’ll be touching on several communication errors in the coming weeks, for this post I want to focus on labeling.

What is labeling? Labeling, particularly during an argument, is when we place a title (or label) on our partner for their behavior. For example, if your partner isn’t helping with household chores, you might call them “lazy.” Whether or not this title is accurate based on your emotions, calling them lazy is not going to help move toward any positive behavioral change. To add, labels suggest a level of simplicity that does not align with the complexity of human emotion and behavior. Maybe your partner is acting “lazy” because today, they had an important business meeting. Maybe they are internally reflecting on an event that occurred earlier. Labels are assumptive and often incorrect when taken as a blanket title to encapsulate the complexity of others.

Instead of placing a negative label on your partner for what they are doing or not doing, consider a more curious, inviting approach to result in a healthy dialogue.

Be inquisitive and not accusational with your partners emotions.

Here are a few examples that you might consider for a more gentle, caring approach avoidant of any labeling:

“I see that you have a free hand at the moment. Do you have time to help me with . . .”

“I wonder if there is a way that I might be able to make it easier for you to remember to take the kids to soccer practice on Tuesdays?”

Does this sound different to you? I hope so. These statements are avoiding any labels that might cause your partner to feel “flawed” or negative in some way. Instead of calling your partner out, you are calling them in. You are opening a door for solution-focused decision making. You are creating dialogue that doesn’t result in defensiveness, but support. You are presenting your concerns from a team mentality.

Labeling can be effective. But, the hurt, contempt, and defensiveness it likely results in will not give you the outcome you want. I imagine that you have also been labeled in the past. It doesn’t feel too good, does it? Particularly when that label comes from someone you love. It will not lead to long term happiness but instead, leave your partner feeling distant and resentful. So, the next time you are wanting to call your partner any labels that might pop in to your mind, hit pause. Ask yourself how you might approach the conversation in an inviting, curious way. Avoid attacking their character.

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