Why couples have communication problems


By David Joel Miller

There are reasons why two people have communication problems.

Communication Problems

Communication Problems
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Ed Yourdon)

When couples come for relationship counseling the most common description of the problem is that they “have trouble communicating.” It is rarely that simple.

Both people speak the same language, in my office this is primarily some version of English. They seem to be able to communicate just fine when they agree on things. We are out of milk, is rarely a communication problem.

What the communication problem is about is mostly the feelings and the hidden agenda behind the statement. “We are out of milk” becomes “You are so selfish, you drank all the milk again” or “Why didn’t you see we needed milk?”

Here are some common causes of “communication problems.”

1. You insist on being right – Right fighting.

You keep telling the other person you are right and they are wrong. They do not agree. No amount to communication training will make this other person start agreeing with you. Continuing to insist you are right and refusing to hear the other persons point of view will not remove the communication problem.

Accept that the other person in your life may never agree with you about some things. You do not need to change their mind. They have the right to their opinion. They even have the right to be wrong.

You, by the way, also have the right to be wrong. When you are wrong, admit it. Continuing to argue to make yourself right or to hide your error will not improve communication.

2. You attack instead of request.

You walk into the kitchen and there are dirty dishes everywhere. You head for the bedroom and your partners dirty clothing is on the floor again.

You could hunt them down and let them know that they are a pig, they grew up in a barn and that their mother is the fattest sow in town.

This personal attack is not likely to improve communication. It just results in a counter offensive about your family’s obsessive fanatical neatness.

3. You keep repeating things ever louder.

Yelling louder does not improve communication with deaf people or non-English speakers. Repeating the same thing over with the same words does not help couples communicate.

Do not say it over again until you have established whether the other person heard you and what they thought you meant by those words.

If they did not understand you the first time you need to use other words to explain. If they did hear you but disagree repeating yourself is likely to provoke a hostile response.

4. Your idea of communicating is getting your way.

Being good at communication will help you tell other people what you think and how you feel. There is no guarantee that you will ever get your partner to agree with you. You partner has the right to think and feel what they want to.

Accept that no amount of communication will get other people to change in the direction you want them to change. Learn to work on changing yourself, become a better person and become more accepting.

5. You focus on being understood rather than on understanding.

Until you understand your partner there is no open space for them to understand you. Why would you want to understand someone who started every conversation with the assertion you were wrong and just needed to start agreeing with them?

Become better at understanding them and then as they feel understood they may be willing to try to understand you. A side benefit of really understanding others is that you may find they were not as opposed to what you wanted as you were thinking.

6. You expect your partner to know what you need – mindreading.

Have you ever head that “If you loved me I wouldn’t have to explain,” or the comment that “If I have to explain this you wouldn’t get it.”

Do you think that because you need something your partner should know that and do the thing you want?

Somewhere this romantic idea got into our heads that two people who are in love are on the same frequency and just know what each other feels and needs.

There are times when two people in a relationship are on the same page and sometimes you do just know what your partner needs. But don’t expect your partner to be able to read your mind. Tell them what you want and need.

Ever had trouble deciding what to have for lunch? Maybe there are times you partner is not clear on their thoughts. Do not expect them to be able to read your mind when you can’t tell what you are thinking at times.

7. There are secrets you do not want your partner to know.

If you have secrets, big ones like an affair in progress or some spending you know they would not approve of you are headed down the road to poor communication.

When you are holding things back the relationship gets chilly. This does not mean that you need to blurt out every wrong thing you do and expect your partner to automatically forgive and forget. What you should be doing is working on having fewer things in your life you can’t tell your partner about.

Having secrets is guaranteed to reduce the communication between people.

8. You are communicating with someone else about couple’s issues.

Most couples do not have that talk about what is and is not cheating before they get into a relationship. Once these situations come up there can be significant differences between what partners think is OK and not OK to be doing.

Sharing things about your partner, about your sex life and other intimate issues, is a common way to reduce the communication in a relationship.

There is this temptation to talk to your family or your friends and vent about the things that are causing conflicts between you. But once you have let the secrets you share with your partner out to other people there is this tendency for those secrets to come back around and bite you.

Do you want your partner’s mother calling you about that problem you two are having in the bedroom? Don’t you share about it with your family either.

Talking to a coworker about your relationship, especially a coworker of your sexual preference, is a dangerous step in the direction of an affair. As we have talked about in the past, affairs do not have to be sexual to damage your current relationship. Those emotional affairs, they can end the communication between you and your partner. Once the communication is gone the intimacy is sure to follow.

Have you had any of these communication problems in your relationships? Have you detected other communication problems? Feel free to leave a comment or send me a reply via the contact me feature and I will respond to as many as possible.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books .  

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