Improving Communication Skills: Overcoming Grenade Throwing for Healthier Relationships

happy couple cooking together, working to consistently improve communication

Many times, couples come into my office for a primary purpose: to improve communication skills. A great deal of these clients identify their fighting as a back–and–forth attack, throwing metaphorical “grenades” back and forth. They further express frustration that throwing grenades only makes matters worse because it causes new attacks and hurt. This grenade throwing causes them to stay in their unhealthy communication cycles and rarely will resolve conflicts or concerns.

While a therapist assesses this in a couple’s session, grenade throwing is most often due to criticism. Criticism is any time you take a problem and put that problem onto your partner. Criticism attacks a person’s character or behavior. Criticism is often coupled with all–or–nothing words, which causes the receiver to feel completely responsible and often puts them on the defense to then attack back. 

Grenade Throwing

Grenade throwing can sound like:

  • “You never put me first! I’m always second to your hobbies and friends.”
  • “Whenever I try to talk to you, you make everything worse.”
  • “You are incapable of letting go of the past. You will never get over that!”
  • “The home is always a complete disaster!”

One of the goals to improve communication is to express your needs or wants without attacking your partner. Yes, sometimes this is easier to discuss than to actually apply this technique in the moment. One simple idea is to remove the word “you” from your statements. Removing “you” and focus on a “us” or “we” can often carry the same expression, yet not cause the other person to feel attacked and become defensive.  

Healthy Expression

Healthy expression of needs can sound like:

  • “I love spending time with you.  I am wondering what we can do to spend more time together?”
  • “I’m confident we can focus on hearing and reflecting each other so we feel heard and validated.”
  • “What can we do to move forward from our past and heal?”
  • “How can we work together to accomplish house chores?”

Removing personal attacks and focusing on the partnership to express wants and needs will result in better collaborative efforts. It takes time and effort to improve communication using this style. Slow down the process and identify the desire. I have found it helpful for clients to write down what they want to say and focus on removing the personal parts and focus on how we can accomplish it. It is my hope we can all improve communication and connection by stopping the grenades.

-Tim Fidler, LCSW