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A common causes of conflict in relationships is communication problems. But it is possible to improve your communication and find healthy, constructive ways to talk and express yourself.

What causes communication problems?

Communication problems in a relationship occur when there is a lack of effective transfer and interpretation of information between the parties. This can take on several forms and often affects the quality and stability of the relationship. Here are some key aspects that constitute communication problems in relationships:

Common communication problems in relationships

Here we list the most common types of communication problems that can occur in a relationship. See if you recognise any, and find practical tips on how to take the first step towards improvement.

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Unclear communication

Unclear communication is a common obstacle in many relationships. It occurs when one partner does not express their thoughts, feelings or needs in a clear and understandable way. This can lead to misunderstandings and frustration.

For example, a partner may say “I’m tired” when they really mean “I need your attention and support”. This ambiguity makes it difficult for the other party to understand and meet the actual needs. One solution is to practice expressing oneself directly and concretely, and confirm the partner has understood the intended message.

Avoiding conflict

Fear of conflict can lead to avoidance of important conversations, which often exacerbates problems. When couples avoid conflict, problems are left unresolved and feelings go unnoticed. This can create a sense of distance and isolation within the relationship. To address this, it is important to develop a safe communication environment where both parties can express their views without fear of negative consequences. Learning to manage conflict in a healthy way can actually strengthen the relationship and increase understanding between the parties.


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Criticism and blaming

Criticism and blame in relationships can be destructive and often leads to a negative spiral of blame and defense. When one partner constantly criticises or blames the other for the problems in the relationship, an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust is created. It is important to distinguish between constructive feedback and criticism. Instead of saying “You never do anything right”, you can say “I feel worried when I don’t see a change in our behaviour”. This reduces the risk of becoming defensive and opens up a more constructive dialogue.

Shortcomings in active listening

Active listening is a vital part of effective communication in relationships. Deficits in this area occur when one partner does not really hear or understand what the other is saying. This may be due to distractions, preconceptions, or an unwillingness to really engage in the conversation. Improving active listening means focusing fully on the partner, asking clarifying questions and reflecting on what is being said. It shows respect and appreciation for the partner’s perspective.

Overreactions

Overreactions in relationships can be a sign of underlying problems that are not being addressed. They can be triggered by minor events, but the cause is often deeper and related to past experiences or insecurities. These overreactions can create unnecessary tension and conflict. Managing overreactions requires self-reflection and sometimes professional help to understand and address the underlying causes. An open dialog about these feelings can also help the couple come closer together.


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Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication, such as body language, eye contact and tone of voice, plays a major role in how we are perceived by others. In relationships, negative non-verbal communication, such as avoiding eye contact or crossing your arms, can send signals of closeness or hostility, even if it is not intended. Being aware of your non-verbal language and working to make it more open and inviting can improve communication.

Read more about how different love languages can ease communication problems.

Characteristics of good communication in a relationship

While you may recognise the common problems, it is important to remember that there are certainly things you are very good at together. Here we list the characteristics of good communication in a relationship.

Openness and honesty

Openness and honesty are the cornerstones of healthy communication in relationships. It is about being honest about your feelings, thoughts and needs, and sharing them with your partner in a respectful way. This creates an atmosphere of trust and safety where both parties feel valued and understood. Openness also means being receptive to your partner’s thoughts and feelings, and not judging or dismissing them. It is important to remember that honesty is not about being merciless in your criticism, but rather about expressing yourself in a way that is constructive and caring.

Active listening

Active listening is a vital communication skill that goes beyond just ‘hearing’ what the other person is saying. It involves giving full attention, acknowledging what is being said, and showing understanding through body language and verbal affirmations. Active listeners use techniques such as reflecting back what they have heard and asking questions to understand more deeply. They also avoid planning their response while the other person is speaking, which can lead to missing important parts of the message. Active listening builds bridges of understanding and increases emotional closeness in a relationship.

Positive affirmation

Positive affirmation in relationships is about acknowledging and appreciating your partner’s actions and feelings, and affirming your partner’s value and importance through words and actions. This can range from expressing gratitude for the little things in everyday life, to encouraging and supporting your partner in their endeavours. Positive affirmation helps boost self-esteem and contributes to a more loving and supportive relationship. It also reduces the risk of misunderstandings and conflicts as the partner feels seen and valued.

Dealing with conflict in a constructive way

Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, the key is how it is managed. Constructive conflict management means approaching disagreements with a solution in mind, rather than winning the argument. It means listening to your partner’s point of view, acknowledging valid points, and working together to find common ground. Avoiding blame and instead expressing your own feelings and needs in a non-threatening way is also important. Constructive conflict management can lead to deeper understanding and a stronger relationship.

Flexibility

Flexibility in a relationship is about being open to change and compromise. Relationships evolve over time and it is worth recognising that what had worked before may not work now. Being flexible means being willing to adapt your behaviours and attitudes to what is best for the relationship. It also means being open to new ideas and ways of doing things, and dealing with unexpected situations with an open mind. Flexibility contributes to a more harmonious and adaptable relationship, where both parties feel fulfilled and respected.


9 common questions about communication problems

What are communication problems?

Communication problems in a relationship occur when there is a lack of open and honest dialogue between partners. It may involve difficulties in expressing feelings, misunderstandings, or an unwillingness to listen to the other person’s perspective. The effect can be emotional distance, conflict, and a sense of dissatisfaction in the relationship.

What is communication in a relationship?

In a relationship, communication is the basis for understanding each other and building a strong bond. It includes not only the verbal exchange but also non-verbal signals such as body language and facial expressions. Effective communication helps strengthen trust and understanding, which is essential for a healthy and happy relationship.

How do you improve communication in a relationship?

To improve communication in a relationship, start by being an active listener. Show genuine interest in your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Use ‘I’ statements to express your needs and feelings without blaming. Learn to compromise and resolve conflicts constructively. Openness and honesty are also key components of effective communication.

What if there is no talking in a relationship?

Not talking in a relationship can lead to several problems. It creates a gap between partners, makes it difficult to resolve conflicts, and can lead to feelings of loneliness and misunderstanding. It is important to break the silence and initiate dialogue, even if it is difficult. Seeking professional help, such as therapy, can be an effective way to rebuild communication.

How does poor communication affect a relationship?

Poor communication can have a profoundly negative impact on a relationship. It can lead to misunderstandings, lack of trust, and a sense of separation or loneliness. In the longer term, it can lead to a breakdown of the relationship. Actively working on communication skills is crucial for the health and well-being of the relationship.

What are the signs of communication problems in a relationship?

Signs of communication problems can include constant misunderstandings, avoidance of important conversations, frequent arguments, and a feeling of not being heard or understood. Other signs include lack of empathy, avoidance of eye contact, and a sense of frustration or hopelessness when trying to communicate.

How does technology affect communication in relationships?

Technology can be both a bridge and a barrier to communication. On the one hand, it makes it easier to stay in touch, especially at a distance. On the other hand, overuse of devices can lead to distraction and a decrease in face-to-face communication, which can weaken the emotional connection.

Is it normal to have communication problems in a relationship?

Yes, it is normal to encounter communication problems in relationships. No relationship is perfect, and different communication styles and backgrounds can lead to misunderstandings. The important thing is to acknowledge these problems and work actively to improve communication.

How do you deal with emotionally charged conversations in a relationship?

Take breaks to calm down during emotionally-charged conversations. Use ‘I’ statements to express your feelings without blaming. Actively listen and empathise with your partner’s feelings. Try to understand their perspective even if you disagree.

How do we get help with our communication problems?

Communication is the foundation of any relationship, but sometimes it can be difficult to make it work. For couples experiencing communication problems, there is help available. Here are the steps to seek and receive help through couple therapy.

1. Identify the problem

Before seeking help, it is important to identify what it is you want to improve. Communication problems can manifest themselves in many ways, from misunderstandings to lack of openness. By being honest with each other about your challenges, you can better understand what you need help with.

2. Find a therapist

The next step is to find a therapist who specialises in couples therapy. You can find a therapist through recommendations from friends, contacting your GP for a referral, or the Lavendla website, where it is easy to book an online session with one of our expert therapists. Always make sure to choose a therapist that you both feel comfortable with.

3. Book an appointment

Once you have found a therapist, the next step is to make an appointment. Lavendla’s therapists can be booked through their profile pages which indicate cost and availability. Our online sessions provide great flexibility and accessibility as they can be done from wherever you are.

4. Prepare for the session

To get the most out of therapy, it’s good to prepare. This may involve thinking about what you want to discuss, writing down questions, or thinking about your goals for the therapy.

5. Participate in the therapy sessions

During the therapy sessions, you will be given tools and techniques to improve your communication. It is important to be open and honest during these sessions in order to work effectively together.

6. Apply what you learn

After each session, it’s important to apply what you’ve learned in your everyday life. This could mean practicing new communication techniques or working on understanding each other’s perspectives better.

Summary

Seeking help for communication problems in a relationship is a brave and important step. By contacting a therapist, you can get the tools and support you need to strengthen your relationship and communication.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.