6 Signs Your Relationship Has Real Communication Issues
“Hey, hun, did you take the trash out?” — “No, I didn’t, but I didn’t see you taking the dog for a walk either!”
“But you promised to take the kids to the park today!! — “Well, you promised to vacuum the car but that didn’t happen so…”
Do these toxic conversations ring a bell?
Poor communication affects a huge number of couples and is, perhaps, the biggest predictor of marriage problems.
But how do you even know your communication is bad?
One of the tell-tale signs is that there’s a lot of passive-aggressive communication going on. Frequent silent treatments, jokes that are actual thoughts, condescending retorts, shifting the blame, yelling and screaming over insignificant things — all of this points to poor communication.
In marriages where communication is poor, the most mundane problems can spark blazing arguments. Couples often isolate particular arguments as if they emerged out of nowhere, from a vacuum. But that’s never really the case. Each new quarrel reinforces the previous ones, especially if these were never solved and instead got swept under the rug.
According to Merriam-Webster, resentment is “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.”
Let’s paint a common picture: you’re sick and tired of doing household chores and your significant other can’t be bothered to even take the trash out. You may (or may not) express your dissatisfaction but nothing seems to change. The resentment builds up, smoldering beneath the surface and ticking like a time bomb.
But why do we let resentment grow in the first place?
We may choose to keep quiet about the things that bother us if we come across a brick wall the first time it happens. This happens when there isn’t enough openness and emotional intimacy in the relationship.
Lack of emotional intimacy
Emotional intimacy directly depends on how safe you feel about sharing your thoughts with your partner. It’s obvious that keeping silent about your feelings will ruin the intimacy you have with each other. On the other hand, keeping silent can be an understandable reaction to being dismissed, ignored, or teased in the past.
The best way to give your relationship a chance is to hear and be heard. That is the only way you’ll really know what’s on your partner’s mind instead of trying to read their thoughts. Second-guessing is usually deceptive, especially when you’ve already been hurt by each other.
Stubbornness and the need to win
In her interview for Self, psychotherapist and marriage counselor Laura L. Young says that some couples would rather be right than happy.
Each and every argument revolves around who is more correct. As a consequence, couples keep spinning in vicious circles when they should be working on finding a common ground. They may start an ugly fight over a piece of trivia or shared memory, totally losing sight of the big picture.
This problem is especially common in couples who’ve been together for a long time. But if you’re having communication issues now, odds are that they started a long time ago and kept growing over the years.
Sharing life with a complete stranger
We often say that our partner knows us better than we know ourselves. That’s what separates them from everyone else.
But when communication grinds to a halt, you start having that awful feeling that you’re living with a complete stranger. You come home from work, say hello, and go about your day. If you have kids, you’ll communicate enough to do what needs to be… and no more than that. The two of you barely speak a word outside what’s necessary because neither of you feels like talking.
If your ability to communicate erodes completely, there will be nothing to share with your partner. Even if something nice happens to you, you won’t feel like sharing it, and you may even feel like your partner will ruin things for you.
Inability to reach mutual goals
Relationships are about enjoying things together and setting new goals. If you can’t communicate with your partner properly, chances are you won’t be able to set a mutual goal.
He or she will want one thing and you’ll want something else. A rift is bound to happen if you can’t discuss these things respectfully and maturely.
“Marital stability is said to exist when a couple is able to live together in their marriage for such a long time in peace, harmony and conjugal bliss for the realization of the goals of marriage. A stable marriage is not one in which there are no conflicts or misunderstanding, rather it is one which the couple has the ability to reduce the frequency of conflict as well as managing the few ones from degenerating into crisis.” (Esere et al. 2014)
What’s the Solution to Communication Issues?
You won’t be able to address the problem until you both take responsibility for it. Your ego (and your partner’s ego) will fight back to mislead you into believing that the problem lies in the other person.
Here’s what you both need to do.
- Be clear about what you want to achieve.
If it’s submission you want, maybe you need to work on yourself first. Having a solid relationship is based on cooperation, not subordination, and this goes both ways. Insist on talking with your partner and ask them to dig deep into their motives — what does he/she want from you?
- Remember that language is not the only way to communicate.
You don’t have to put an emotion into words to show that it’s there. If you constantly insist on talking and rambling, that can be tiring. And some people fall into a trap where they say all the right things but don’t follow it up with actions.
Communicate with your partner through small tokens of appreciation and gestures that go a long way (and expect that in return). Give them a hug, leave a note, or bring home a small but well-chosen gift on occasion.
- Don’t dwell on negativity — find a solution
There’s nothing wrong with expressing negative thoughts but how you express them matters. If there’s negativity you need to put out there, make it constructive.
Instead of starting a fight with “Why do you always do…”, change it into “Do you think it would be better if…”. This is a better way to address an issue because it turns a negative statement into one that requires mutual effort and is more encouraging.
“You” statements directly jeopardize your partner’s ego and push them into a defense mode. Avoiding that will take the heat off your conversation.
- Lower YOUR defenses
Maybe you’re the one preventing proper communication from happening because you’re always trying to stand your ground rather than reach out.
You have to let the conversation happen without prioritizing your own preferences. Your main interest should be to get your message through and receive feedback — not prove yourself right and your partner wrong.
Instead of determining who’s to blame, give your partner’s opinions the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to quick conclusions and make a conscious decision to escape the gridlock of defensive responses.
“…Finally, the counselor convinced the couple to express frankly what each resented in the other. The husband after a lot of coaxing blurted out in a fit of emotion. “I wish you wouldn’t always serve me those damned boiled eggs”. The shocked wife regained her composure and replied, “I dislike the boiled eggs myself. But I was making them thinking it was your favourite” (Esere, 2008).