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June 7, 2024

Communication, Complications & Confusions: 6 Reasons Why You Struggle in your Relationship.

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The single biggest problem with humans is simple: we are over-engineered.

Humans, like all animals, are designed for one task: continuation of the species. Find a mate and propagate. However, for this task, Homo sapiens has been blessed (or cursed) with an unfathomably complicated and intricate system of verbal and non-verbal communication.

And we see those complications and frustration front and centre in romantic relationships. As any marriage or family therapist will tell you, one of the first issues couples bring up when they sit down on the sofa is problems with communication. “He never listens to me.” “She always talks over me.” “He keeps bottling things up.” “She keeps shouting.”

If you look through any relationship books or websites, there will be numerous articles about improving communication. It’s the same with many theoretical approaches such as Gottman’s Seven Principles or Emotionally-Focused Therapy. All these ways of thinking are rooted in what is called the skills deficit hypothesis, which argues that couples simply don’t have the skills or techniques to communicate, particularly under stress, and it is the goal of the article or therapist to educate and inform.

The problem with this is that most of us have excellent communication skills in every other department apart from romantic relationships. I have sat opposite lawyers, HR managers, diplomats, trade union negotiators, even a doctor of linguistics, people whose job involves delicate and advanced communications in pressured environments. Yet they all make the same complaint: they can’t talk to their other half.

So, what’s going on? Why is speaking and listening in marriage and long-term romantic relationships often so difficult?

This post looks at what we actually mean when we say we can’t communicate and outlines six reasons why it’s never as straightforward as it looks.

Reason #1: Non-Communication is the Communication

This lack or refusal to communicate constructively is actually a form of communication. It’s not an accident or skills failure; one side knows precisely what they’re doing. They want you to know they’re not talking to you or listening to you. The silent treatment or the shouting matches are their vocabulary.

Perhaps they observed their parents behaving in the same way and think this is how a husband or wife operates to either get what they want or when they don’t get what they want. Or maybe one side feels the other uses communication as a tool of control. They feel you can always twist what they say or convince them to agree to something they don’t want. Or maybe you both feel you two constantly talk but nothing ever changes.

Whatever the reason, if you believe normal, constructive communication is not working then you may feel resorting to non-constructive or even destructive communication strategies is your only option.

Reason #2: It’s Not Communication, It’s Connection

For whatever reason, you two have emotionally disconnected. Maybe you were not supported in a moment or crisis, or you’ve caught them looking at someone else, maybe the love has faded, or you’re just sick and tired of having to constantly do the heavy lifting.

You hear your couple therapist talk about modelling good behavior or read articles about powerful communication exercises, but you’ve done all that and nothing’s changed. The distance between you, the injustice, or pain is still there. So, you don’t sit down like grown adults. You now throw your toys out of the pram to try to get some sort of response, to try to throw light on the emotional disconnection that you both pretend doesn’t exist.

Reason #3: The Pattern is the Pattern

This is something I see day and day out: there is no underlying structural reason, and there has been no major breach in trust or betrayal; you simply are engaging in unhealthy communication because the other side is doing the same. You aren’t behaving because they aren’t behaving and they aren’t behaving because you aren’t behaving.

You are stuck in a sort of playground, tit-for-tat, doom loop, which sounds ridiculous, yet I have seen couples stuck in the pattern for many, many years. Equally because you can’t talk, particularly about the big stuff, the connection dissolves as with reason number two, and because the connection has dissolved, you can’t talk. The pattern makes the pattern.

Reason #4: It’s Toxic

You are in something that can be described toxic and have now become addicted to the powerful neurochemical drugs triggered by making up and breaking up. So while communicating calmly and clearly or using a safe word might smooth things over and avoid the fireworks, the problem is you’re hooked on the fireworks. But you can’t have one without the other; you need the break up for the makeup. Even when you sincerely with all your heart want to end it and escape this destructive cycle of chaos, the adrenaline and dopamine keep pulling you back in.

It may have been like this at the start or maybe this is something that has occurred over time, maybe you have a history of these sort of relationships, maybe you don’t; either way you now find yourself stuck in a dynamic that is difficult to escape.

Reason #5: Fear of the Consequences

What or how much you say is a strategic decision. Perhaps time and time again they have said to you they want truthful, honest conversations, but when they get a truth that they disagree with here comes the drama, the shouting and slammed doors, the dog-house and cold-shoulders. Or something you say in confidence in a moment of vulnerability is then later used against you, to either manipulate or humiliate.

So now you say nothing, quietly nod your head in agreement, and follow the path of least resistance. But of course, nothing gets resolved, and before you know it you two both find yourself slowly drifting apart.

Reason #6: Speaking to Men

The target audience, and thus the focus, of most relationship articles is women. Of course, it is important that women are happy, yet while women may be unhappy for many reasons, lack of communication tends not to be one of them. Women, on the whole, verbalise effectively what they want from both a partner and a relationship. Many men, on the other hand, do not.

There are obvious frustrations in dealing with a gender whose default communication style is to deny anything is wrong. Yet the bigger danger is the misassumption because your husband doesn’t talk, he doesn’t care. Equally (although not all husbands fit this type) it is ideological not to accept that there can be significant differences in the way men and women talk about serious, emotional stuff. If you’re not able or willing to interpret what your partners means from what they say you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see how that can lead to misunderstandings and difficulties.

Conclusion

If there’s one universal truth about individuals, it is that we are complicated. With couples, those complications are squared. There are inherent challenges in all communication; however, before you focus on your speaking and listening skills, reflect on whether there are other reasons at play that are sabotaging or blocking your attempts to communicate with your other half. Because if you keep thinking it’s about a skills failure, when in truth it’s got nothing to do with your skills, you’re just going to end up going round in circles.

~

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