HOW TO FIX THE LACK OF COMMUNICATION IN A RELATIONSHIP
By Lorin Harrott
Communication in a relationship can be tough and fixing a lack of communication in a relationship can be even tougher. It doesn’t seem like it should be, but good communication skills take work to maintain and can get off track more easily than you realize.
If you have heard of the butterfly effect then you may know what I mean. For those who are unfamiliar the premise is this: a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil which starts a wind movement that eventually results in a Typhoon in Japan. Problems with communication can follow a very similar path – something small that results in something big down the road – which makes knowing how to fix a lack of communication in a relationship crucial.
Communication Is More Than Just Talking
One of the biggest problems with communication is that many don’t really understand what it is or what relationship communication looks like. And often in a relationship, each partner has a different definition of what it means to communicate.
A contributing factor to this is the natural differences in communication styles between men and women. Although there are exceptions, men are generally less likely to discuss feelings, think ahead about the impact of their words (or silence), or recognize unspoken communication cues such as body language or facial expression. Women, on the other hand, do these things fairly regularly and sometimes overdo them. This can result in a woman imposing her own expectations on the man in her life without him ever understanding what’s happening or why he’s constantly in trouble. These small fissures in communication can quickly become large crevasses leaving each partner on opposite sides.
Another common problem is not recognizing the difference between talking and communicating. Often couples who seek counseling will claim that they talk but one or the other, or both, feel ignored, unheard, or disrespected. This is because talking isn’t the same as really communicating.
Dr. Kurt helps couples struggling with communications problems quite frequently. According to him,
One of the top complaints I hear in counseling is, ‘We don’t communicate.’ This is said more often by women than men. When their partner hears this he usually doesn’t understand what she means since he can recall their speaking at least several times already that day. She doesn’t mean they don’t ever talk. What she really means is they don’t talk about deeper stuff, like their relationship, how they’re feeling, or what they really think. In her mind their communication is all surface stuff – Are you picking up the kids or am I? We’re out of milk. Should we visit your parents again this Christmas? It’s not just women who can feel dissatisfied with their communication though – men can too. In every relationship that’s struggling the lack of good communication is one of the primary reasons why. Healthy, substantive communication builds connection and intimacy. A lack of this kind of quality communication leads to frustration, discontent, and unhappiness.”
Communicating requires effort by both to share thoughts and feelings, hear your partner, understand what they are saying, and observe what’s unspoken. Let’s consider the following examples.
Scenario 1: John tells Lisa he’s going to go away for a weekend with the boys. Lisa immediately gets a hard look on her face, says “fine” and walks away. John thinks she’s irritated because she doesn’t like his friends or want him to have any fun, so he leaves it alone. She’ll get over it, right?
- Reality: Lisa feels hurt because John seems excited to spend time with the guys but hasn’t made any attempt to spend time alone with her. Their marriage has become boring and routine and she would like him to show that kind of enthusiasm for her.
- Communication fail: Lisa didn’t make any attempt to let John know that she’d like some one-on-one time with him at some point as well, and that she misses the intimacy and closeness they used to share. John didn’t bother to explain that work has been stressful, and this feels like a good way to blow off some steam, or that he feels bad whining about things to her.
- Result: They both feel frustrated with the other and the divide between them grows. This can lead to resentment, arguments, and a disinterest in keeping the marriage healthy.
Scenario 2: When Janet and George go to bed he reaches over to touch her shoulder. Janet swipes his hand away saying, “No, I’m tired.” George says, “That’s okay” and tries to rub her back. Janet rolls away saying, “NO” more forcefully this time. They each turn their back to the other and go to sleep.
- Reality: Janet really is tired. She works as a nurse and there were a lot of difficult patients this week and sad situations. She feels physically and emotionally exhausted. George knows her work can cause her stress and was really just wanting to be close, rub, her back and help her relax. Her reaction, however, felt hostile and personal and he now feels rejected and hurt.
- Communication fail: Janet needs to be able to share with George the things that upset her. Even without going into detail, letting him know that she’s feeling affected by work will make her feel better, let him know that he’s not the problem, and allow him to be sensitive to her needs. Conversely, George should have told her that he wasn’t expecting sex necessarily and that he just wanted to be near her.
- Result: George feels rejected on a personal level and Janet thinks that all he wants is sex. Misperceptions on the part of each of them that will go on to cause larger problems if they aren’t clarified.
Both scenarios above are typical of couples whose communication skills in their relationship are severely lacking. Not only does each partner fail to express themselves, but they also lack awareness of unspoken signals the other is giving.
Why Communication In A Relationship Is So Important
Have you ever consulted a map to figure out how to get to your destination? Of course, you have – we all have. And whether it was the now vintage paper kind or, more likely Siri telling you when and where to turn, the network of roads and highways eventually lead you to where you want to be. Communication skills act as that map within your relationship.
Now, consider a situation where there is no map and seemingly no road to get you to your destination. Frustrating, right? This is what it feels like when there is a lack of communication in your relationship.
Communication is what keeps a relationship healthy. It’s what allows you to resolve differences and understand your partner on a deeper, more intimate level. Without it, both you and your partner end up isolated and alone, without a clear road back to each other. This is why fixing communication problems in your relationship is so important.
Poor communication is one of the biggest problems that bring couples to counseling. And that’s if they are proactive enough to seek counseling. Sadly, many couples never recognize the breakdown in their communication and their need for help. Instead, they blame each other for not understanding, not making an effort, or no longer loving them. As a result, they grow apart, and this can lead to physical or emotional affairs and potentially divorce – things that could all be avoided by fixing the communication that lacks in their relationship.
What You Can Do to Fix the Lack of Communication in Your Relationship
Many people assume that because they were able to communicate when they got together, they should be able to forever. This simply isn’t the case.
As your relationship grows and your lives change two things happen:
- Lives become more complicated.
- Partners become more complacent, lazier, and take things for granted.
These two factors make it very unlikely that what worked for you at the beginning will not continue to work as your relationship evolves.
Think about our map analogy from earlier. Maps go out of date and need to be updated. If you try to use a map created 10 years ago you will likely get lost and frustrated. The same is true of your communication skills – they need to be updated as your relationship evolves.
So, how do you fix a lack of communication in your relationship?
While there’s no 10-minute solution that will make everything OK, there are a few important steps that will put you on the right path.
- Acknowledge that there is a problem.
- Recognize that you both have a role in that problem.
- Agree that it will take effort from the both of you in order to fix that problem.
- Begin to relearn and practice the basics of communication.
- Have patience. Not only are these things not as easy as they sound, but how they’re effectively done varies by couple and individual.
Learning how to fix a lack of communication in your relationship can be a complicated and painstaking process. For some couples, it can be helpful to work with a counselor who is trained in these skills and knows how to help people break through the barriers and bad habits that have built up over the years. The important thing to remember is that the effort you put into fixing the communication problems in your relationship will likely pay off in a big way.