Healthy communication is the heartbeat of any relationship, a tie that connects two individuals, allowing them to understand, empathize, and support each other in the good and bad times. A solid relationship filled with harmony and understanding relies heavily on effective communication.

When communication breaks down within a relationship, it can be incredibly distressing for both partners. Understanding and acknowledging the underlying issues and implementing effective strategies can help re-establish a healthy and harmonious connection between partners, restoring the bond you shared and allowing for healing.

Causes of Communication Breakdown in a Relationship

  • Misaligned Expectations: One common source of communication breakdown is the presence of unspoken or conflicting expectations. It is very typical for partners to have different ideas or opinions about their roles, responsibilities, or the direction of the relationship. When these expectations remain unspoken or misunderstood, it can lead to frustration and resentment. For example, Tamara wanted her husband, Aiden, to be more active in household chores and parenting duties. She was constantly frustrated that he sat in front of the TV when he came home and did not want to help her with the kids or the nightly chores. However, Aiden believed in a more traditional division of labor. He focused on his career, providing for the family, and thought his wife was happy as a homemaker and mother. This misalignment in their expectations created tension and conflicts within their marriage, leaving Tamara feeling hurt and used while Aiden felt frustrated. Neither were happy, yet they did not address the issue. This example emphasizes the importance of open communication and the need to compromise when resolving such matters.
  • Emotional Distance: Over time, emotional distance can develop in a marriage, causing partners to become less engaged in open, meaningful conversations. This emotional gap may result from unresolved conflicts, unaddressed issues, apathy, or external stressors, such as work pressures or financial concerns.
  • Poor Communication Patterns: Negative communication patterns, such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, can erode any chance of positive communication and lead to escalating conflicts and further deterioration of communication. This cyclical problem eventually spins out of control, leading to a collapse in trust, destroying feelings of love, and creating a wall between the couple that may feel insurmountable.
  • Unresolved Issues: Unresolved conflicts or past issues can continue to fester, making it difficult for couples to communicate effectively in the present. These unresolved issues can trigger emotional reactions such as anger, resentment, apathy, or distrust, creating tension, distance, and a communication breakdown where both parties feel victimized.

Consequences of Communication Breakdown

The consequences of communication breakdown in a relationship are profound and can have a lasting impact on both partners:

  • Increased Conflict: A small unresolved argument often leads to more frequent and intense conflicts that continue to escalate. This can strain a relationship further and, in extreme cases, result in emotional or even physical harm.
  • Emotional Distress: Both partners may experience frustration, resentment, sadness, and anger due to poor communication. These negative emotions can take a toll on your emotional well-being. One person may find themselves getting sick all the time, another may not be sleeping, and this, in turn, affects their health. Our emotional and physical bodies are inextricably linked. We must take care of both the physical and emotional for the good of ourselves and our partners.
  • Decreased Intimacy: When communication breaks down between a couple, it can likely result in reduced emotional and physical intimacy. This significantly impacts the quality of any relationship, leading to feelings of resentment as the couple slowly drifts further apart. 
  • Risk of Separation or Divorce: Persistent communication breakdown can sadly lead to a breakdown of the relationship itself, as partners may consider separation or divorce the only viable solution.

Overcoming communication breakdowns in a relationship is challenging but certainly achievable. It begins with a slight change on your behalf; your partner may initially not show signs of wanting to make changes but try not to feel disheartened. When you make changes, it encourages your partner to follow suit. The following strategies can help couples work towards effective and harmonious communication:

  • Self-Reflection: Take time to self-reflect to understand your communication styles, triggers, and emotional responses. Are you an assertive communicator? A passive-aggressive communicator? Do you tend to take on a more passive role, or do you attack conversation head-on, aggressively? This self-awareness can help individuals take responsibility for their role in communication breakdown. In a past blog post, I covered harmful versus assertive communication, so take the time to learn and understand how you communicate and how to make changes to encourage communication with your partner. That post has many tips and helpful hints, which I will link to at the end of this article.
  • Open and Honest Communication: Encourage open, honest, and non-judgmental communication. Create a safe space to share and express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fear of criticism or blame. You may like to do this in a setting away from home, take a stroll in the park or a walk on the beach, and talk openly with each other.
  • Active Listening: Listening to your partner’s perspective is crucial for understanding their viewpoint. Avoid interrupting and practice empathy by trying to see the situation from their point of view.
  • Work as a team: View your partnership from a joint perspective when conflicts arise. Look at the relationship as a ‘we’ instead of a singular. It is easy to look at the world through your eyes, but to do so through your partner takes patience, understanding, and empathy. Practice this technique when listening to an opinion that may not be similar to your own. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand your partner more deeply. The more you practice, the easier it becomes, and when an argument arises, you can talk together openly, understanding each other’s viewpoints while quickly resolving the issue.
  • Seek Professional Help: Couples experiencing persistent communication breakdowns may benefit from the guidance of a trained marriage therapist. As a couples therapist, I provide a neutral, supportive environment and offer valuable insights and techniques for improving communication. My details are at the end of this blog post.
  • Conflict Resolution Skills: Learning and applying practical conflict resolution skills, such as compromise and negotiation, can help couples address and resolve issues without escalating arguments. A relationship is about give and take, understanding that we can make changes (within reason) for the person we love, and being confident enough to ask for changes to me made in return. 
  • Revisit Expectations: Touching base with each other and revising prior conflicting expectations can prevent misunderstandings and align both partners on their goals and roles within the relationship. It always feels good when you are both on the same page.

Communication breakdown in a marital relationship is a challenging issue that affects many couples, but it is not insurmountable. By understanding the root causes and consequences of communication breakdown and implementing strategies that enable open, honest, and empathetic communication, couples can begin to heal their relationship. A thriving relationship relies on solid communication; talking with your partner about issues can lead to a healthier, more harmonious partnership. Isn’t that what we all want?

To learn more about communication and its importance in your relationship, download our mini-course: “Discover harmony in your relationship: A Psychologist’s guide to conflict resolution.”

This mini-course introduces you to the concept and principles of Verbal Aikido and its application in marital communication. Verbal Aikido empowers you to resolve marital conflict harmoniously, fostering unity in your relationship. We then explore the importance of emotional connection and how modern-day technology has entirely changed our communication methods. Finally, we learn about conflict igniters, what this is, and how this behavior leads to contention and disharmony, and we teach you how to address these behaviors effectively and harmoniously to achieve resolution.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.

To schedule an appointment, please click here.