It often isn’t the big fights that leave a couple feeling disconnected from each other, but a gradual decline in their communication. As time goes on, it becomes easier to pay less attention to the ways you communicate, making it harder to distinguish which conflict is the culprit in the relationship. It is not a surprise that one of the first questions relationship coaches ask couples at the beginning of treatment is some variation of “what issues brought you here today?” 65% of couples answer, “Communication issues.”
Communication problems may develop in any relationship under any circumstance. It can be easy for individuals to misunderstand each other and these misunderstandings may lead to tension in relationships. In some cases, conflicts may develop, making communication even more challenging.
Types of communication problems.
Many factors contribute to communication problems between partners. Differing opinions may lead to disagreements and tension, not only between family and friends, but also between partners. In some cases, differences in cultural backgrounds or personal experiences may also cause problems to arise. Because communication varies among cultures, a person may say something to an individual who belongs to a different culture and be interpreted in a different way. Let’s look at some things that can contribute to communication problems:
- Childhood trauma.
- Cultural differences.
- Language differences.
- Misinterpretation of another person’s motivations or statements.
- Physical and mental health issues.
- Deception and lying.
- Poor listening skills.
Behaviors that affect communication.
Communication requires a sender and a receiver, and sometimes, our behaviors may cause problems in communicating what we want to our partners. Let’s have a look at some of the most common behaviors that cause communication problems and lead to problems in our relationships.
Making assumptions is one of the most common communication issues couples face. Even if you have been with your partner for years and you think you know them, you may fall into the trap of assuming that you understand their perspective.
Criticism can be constructive, but only when it is delivered in the right way. Most partners who face problems with communication also face problems with being overly critical with each other. Being overly critical can be hurtful and can damage trust, so it is important for partners to be honest, respectful, and kind with each other.
Being passive aggressive.
When one partner becomes passive aggressive, it causes the other partner to do the same thing. Passive aggressiveness can cause resentment, coldness, tension, and disconnection in the relationship. Partners should always be honest and direct with each other, expressing their thoughts and wants in kind and empathetic ways.
You say something the wrong way.
How you say something often has a bigger effect than what you are saying. Raising your voice or being sarcastic may lead to your partner withdrawing emotionally or becoming defensive and angry.
Partners are not genuine with each other.
Partners often find themselves not being totally honest about their own feelings and needs. While they might feel that they are protecting their partner by not openly expressing their thoughts, they are, in fact, damaging their relationship.
Sending mixed messages.
Communication comes in both verbal and nonverbal ways. Mixed messages often occur when partners are not consistent in the way they use these two forms of communication. For example, someone trying to be an active listener, but not making eye contact, may cause frustration for their partner, who thinks that they are not being heard.
Many problems in communication arise when partners are acting competitive and are more concerned with winning the argument than solving the actual problem. Being defensive, critical, and judgmental during an argument only leads to a breakdown in communication and does nothing to solve the heart of the issue.
One partner is easily distracted.
When talking with another person, each of us wants the other’s full attention. Talking with someone who is easily distracted, especially your partner, can be frustrating and lead to miscommunication. Relationships fall victim to this problem very often. When two people are used to each other’s presence, they often become unintentionally lazy in their communication. One partner can be easily distracted by their cell phone or the TV, causing a disruption in the flow of communication. This problem affects most couples and does not vary with age or cultural background.
Lack of understanding.
One of the biggest communication issues in a relationship is the failure to try to understand the other person’s thoughts and emotions. Many factors can lead to this behavior, which can be disastrous in any relationship. Not wanting to or not paying the necessary attention to understand your partner kills communication, which will eventually cause your relationship to fall apart.
Avoidance is one of the most dangerous patterns of communication in a relationship. Over time, partners avoid discussing difficult matters, which will lead to avoiding each other in general, causing irreversible damage to the relationship. Avoidance is one of the reasons so many couples disconnect physically and emotionally.
Misunderstandings, disagreements, a lack of understanding, and distractions—all of the above can damage a healthy relationship. An intimate relationship is a promise to love and cherish each other. Disrupted communication may cause a temporary pause, but those who are willing to overcome their problems can build a stronger foundation for their relationship. Conflict is normal and it is not necessarily a sign of a problematic relationship, but the issues that cause conflict usually don’t go away when left untreated. If anything, they tend to get worse.
Keep in mind that some people require time to gather their thoughts before discussing a problem with their partners. Others choose to pause and walk away for some time in order to temper their frustration and calmly return to the discussion. You may be the one who does not want to act on emotions and engage in an argument, but would rather take a break to gather your thoughts and come back to the discussion with a more rational point of view. There are differences between behaviors; being able to tell your partner about your need to act in a specific way is itself a type of communication.
Communication in relationships and marriages.
Problems in communication are often a sign of relationship trouble. Partners may recognize when there are issues in their relationship or marriage, but they may not attribute these issues to communication problems. Often, partners talk frequently about their everyday activities and consider themselves to be good communicators, when they may, in fact, be neglecting to discuss of issues that are significantly affecting their relationship. Good communication is typically a characteristic of a healthy relationship or marriage.
Here are some things you can do to improve communication in your relationship:
- Listen to your partner carefully.
- Express your feelings with “I” statements.
- Share your thoughts and emotions openly and truthfully.
- Avoid making assumptions.
- Make sure you are in a relaxed state when discussing issues in your relationship.
- Avoid defensiveness, insults, or raising your voice.
- Prevent any distractions (start by putting down your phone or any other device).
- Keep eye contact.
- Use both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Relationship coaching for communication issues.
There are many therapeutic approaches available for individuals and couples experiencing communication issues. Depending on your situation, you may find benefit in relationship or marriage coaching . In cases where individuals’ communication difficulties are a result of childhood trauma, they may be able to uncover and resolve unconscious thoughts and emotions in coaching sessions and develop their communication skills.
Intimate partners and married couples who wish to improve their communication skills may choose relationship coaching. A relationship coach can help partners examine their communication strategies to determine whether the partners’ communication styles match and set new goals. Relationship or marriage coaching can improve both individual skills and the skills necessary for both partners to communicate as a unit, and can thus improve your quality of communication.
Some of the techniques coaches use in relationship coaching to improve a couple’s communication include
- Creation of a safe environment for both partners to express themselves.
- Use of positive language.
- Dialogic listening.
- Active listening.
- Mediated communication.
- Respectful communication.
- Use of eye contact.
- Questioning stereotypes.
- Identification of future goals and desires.
We all know that open and honest communication is one of the characteristics of a healthy marriage, or any intimate relationship. We also know that maintaining good communication over the years is one of the hardest parts of being in a relationship, and instead, we sometimes end up hurting the people we love the most. This is because, over the years, we enter a “comfort zone” where we take our partner for granted and forget to treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve. The work needed to improve communication can be a challenge; partners need to make habits of communication that can be repeated consistently. Hopefully, with relationship coaching, you will overcome these problems and build a strong foundation for a long lasting and healthy relationship based on love and respect.
Jones, Stanley & Lebaron, Curtis. (2002). Research on the Relationship Between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication: Emerging Integrations. Journal of Communication. 52. 499 – 521. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2002.tb02559.x.
Montana State University. (2009). Couple Relationships: Communication and Conflict Resolution [Ebook]. Retrieved from http://health.msuextension.org/documents/MT200917HR.pdf
The Huffington Post. Poor Communication Is The #1 Reason Couples Split Up. (2013)
UK Violence Intervention and Prevention Center. (2020). [Ebook]. Retrieved 26 August 2020, from https://www.uky.edu/hr/sites/www.uky.edu.hr/files/wellness/images/Conf14_FourCommStyles.pdf.