Solve The Biggest Problem In Your Relationship: Communication

How to Fix Communication in a Relationship

Are you wondering how to fix communication in your relationship but feel like there’s just no way out of the impasse and disconnection? “We can’t communicate with each other” is probably the number-one complaint of most couples coming in for couples counseling or online marriage counseling. The underlying issue can be about anything: parenting, sex, money, priorities. But the result is the same — tense, frustrating moments for both of you. Many couples don’t even remember what half the fights are even about, just that communicating with their partner feels impossible.

Communication problems in relationships make even the simplest moments feel difficult, and like a new fight is always simmering under the surface. Even the banalest question, like “what do you want to do for dinner?” can turn into a conflict when you’re having a negative reaction to your partner’s tone of voice, or the way they respond to you (or don’t respond to you), or the assumptions they make, or the fact that unresolved hurts and resentments are piling up between you.

Because communication difficulties are such a major problem for so many couples, and I’ve been getting SO many questions about it from podcast listeners, I’ve decided to help you solve this problem and fix communication in a relationship by creating a three-part podcast “mini-series” on the subject of how to improve the communication in your relationship.

How to Fix Communication Problems in Marriage

In today’s first episode, I’ll be introducing some main ideas that can help you understand why conflicts happen, and what YOU can do to fix communication in your relationship starting today.

Next week we’ll be talking about how to handle things if you have a partner who seems angry, snappish, or emotionally reactive.

And then in the following episode we’ll be talking about how to communicate with a partner who shuts down.

I sincerely hope that these ideas help you both find your way back together again.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Ps. Do YOU have specific questions you’d like me to answer on an upcoming podcast? Record your question for me using the “voice recording” widget on this page, or leave a question in the comments! LMB

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Solve The Biggest Problem In Your Relationship: Communication

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28 Comments

  1. So what happens when you communicate regarding communication. See no effort. But there’s effort towards looking for a repair brochure for a insignificant tool….

    YOU do the hw you’d hope they would show interest in doing. Fine a piece worth suggesting ti them. And eventhen they don’t care to become informed.

    1. Claus, I totally agree that this is such a hard situation. In the case you’re describing, it may be worth doing some soul-searching around whether or not this relationship has enough strength and positive qualities for you to want to continue in it. I have a podcast planned to come out soon around this topic of “when is it time to end a relationship” and I’ll be sure to leave the link here in case you want to check it out. In the meantime I hope that you are finding ways to support yourself, and cultivate other, more positive relationships in your life. Sincerely, Lisa

  2. I found this podcast so enlighting and ironically I just told myself this same thing just a few days ago! I can only control my reactions/behaviors and so I am trying to tell myself to take a deep breath and not react immediately or at all when I know that the reaction is most likely going to be one that I am not happy with. As you mentioned, this takes an immense amount of self awareness and it is going to be a work in progress for quite some time. Hearing you recommend this method to help this unhealthy pattern of communication that we have become accustomed to is definitely encouraging. Thank you for offering this. It is exactly what I needed to hear when I searched for some answers tonight.

  3. How do you deal with an overly sarcastic partner? My partner can be very sarcastic and I know that he says things in jest and usually I can take it in stride, but sometimes – it’s very difficult not to take things personally. What would you recommend?

    1. Tell him how you feel, in a very direct, honest and non confrontational way. Ask for what you’d like to have happen instead. Here’s more advice: “How to Get Your Needs Met in a Relationship.” I hope it helps.

      Lisa

      PS: If he can’t or won’t here you, get involved in couples counseling. Your feelings are important and things like this can fester and grow into resentments that will destroy a relationship, over time.

      PSS: “Sarcasm” is often a thin cover for anger and resentment, in my experience. If you do get your partner into couples counseling with you, it may help him learn how to be more authentic and direct with his feelings instead of hiding behind sarcasm or jokes that aren’t jokes. Then you two can work together to solve problems that will help him feel better too. LMB

  4. Hello, first off I want to say thank you, not only do ur words move me but they help me understand myself and my relationship so much more so again thank you I love you…… so with that being said let me jump right in, my partner and I are going through this cycle of one day we are great talking, understanding each other, being loving and caring and at a blink of an eye I say or do something that puts him into this “ everything I do is wrong” I hate u mode and we are then doing the opposite of all the good things I mentioned above. And this goes back and fourth on and on. I guess what I am asking is how to get off this cycle we are on. When I ask what it is that I am doing to cause him to act out in anger towards me because I want to change it cuz I will do anything to make u not feel this way his response is always “ you don’t know? And that’s it won’t speak another word to me. There is a big age difference between us 10 years him being the older one is that maybe the reason he expects me to know why I make him feel this way? He is always making jokes about I believe to be his true feelings all the time like for example if he doesn’t like something I said while around other people he makes a joke about it and continues to make jokes about the same thing for days at a time what can I do to prevent these things from happening????? Please help me I don’t know what to do….
    thank you,

    1. Cristyna, thanks for your kind words. I’m glad that the relationship podcasts and articles at Growing Self have been helpful to you. With regards to your question: This sounds like a very challenging relationship. It sounds like you’re feeling invalidated by your partner, and like he’s punishing you emotionally. (Hearing some power and control things going on here Cristyna!)

      In my professional opinion, if this is going to change, it’s going to require the support of a good couples therapist: What you have been doing does not seem to be working. Is he open to doing couples counseling or relationship coaching with you?

      If you want to do couples counseling but your partner does not, one thing you might consider is taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz and inviting him to do the same. (In the quiz you have the option of having it emailed to your partner, too). Then you can both take the quiz, and not just get your scores but get access to a series of videos I’ve made that discuss the different relationship domains. I think you two will definitely want to watch the ones related to communication and emotional safety, in particular.

      Perhaps your partner hearing from a “relationship expert” on how some of the things he’s currently doing are destructive to your relationship may be the first step in getting him onboard with the idea of doing couples therapy? FYI, my little videos are in NO way a substitute for actual couples counseling or relationship coaching — they’re just there to provide a little education and direction for free.

      The next step would be to get him into couples counseling to see if this can change. If he won’t go, I hope that you get into some good individual personal growth work that supports YOU in figuring out what is best for you, and how you can make positive changes in yourself that help you set boundaries with people who are not responsive to your emotional needs.

      Hope these ideas help Cristyna, and good luck to you!

      xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  5. If we have a disagreement my wife’s normal reaction is to give me the silent treatment, of which she can hold for days.. and sends me around the bend! It feel like a definitive way to hurt me without having to say anything.. literally. I have historically given us both space to cool off and hope there’s a chance for us to discuss as adults or come together with forgiveness, yet the treatment can continue if/when I try to resolve it. I must stress I’m not losing my cool.. and am not looking to blame, but I’m yet to master how we can resolve issues in a more timely manner. I’m becoming concerned at this pattern, as it’s mentally taxing for me and don’t believe it’s healthy for either of us. Thoughts?

    1. Jay, you’re totally right: This kind of punishing behavior is what Dr. John Gottman (who is THE name in research into marriage and family therapy) has termed one of the “four horseman of the apocalypse” because it is so destructive.

      You are right to be concerned with this pattern, and I sincerely hope that you take effective action now to change this dynamic before it gets worse. (This dynamic tend to intensify over time). Please schedule an appointment with a competent professional marriage counselor who practices either emotionally focused couples therapy or the Gottman method of marriage counseling, both of which are evidence based and have a strong track record of resolving this type of toxic communication dynamic.

      Please also look for someone with an “MFT” after their name, which (usually means they have specialized training and experience in couples and family therapy. (Except in California, interestingly — a lot of MFTs there do not have education or experience with couples! Really!) Avoid therapists with an LPC, or LCSW or even licensed psychologists. They are often happy to work with couples but don’t know enough to know what they don’t know, and it often results in relationships rupturing rather than being repaired.

      If you would like to do this work with someone on the Growing Self team the first step in getting started is to schedule a free consultation session. Whether or not you work with us, I do hope you get help with this. It is unlikely to change otherwise, and if left unresolved, over time, this is the type of dynamic that breeds resentment, anger, damages trust, and which will destroy a marriage. Take action sooner rather than later!

      Wishing you all the best,
      Lisa Marie Bobby

  6. So what happens when you communicate regarding communication. See no effort. But there’s effort towards looking for a repair brochure for a insignificant tool….

    YOU do the hw you’d hope they would show interest in doing. Fine a piece worth suggesting ti them. And eventhen they don’t care to become informed.

  7. Claus, I totally agree that this is such a hard situation. In the case you’re describing, it may be worth doing some soul-searching around whether or not this relationship has enough strength and positive qualities for you to want to continue in it. I have a podcast planned to come out soon around this topic of “when is it time to end a relationship” and I’ll be sure to leave the link here in case you want to check it out. In the meantime I hope that you are finding ways to support yourself, and cultivate other, more positive relationships in your life. Sincerely, Lisa

  8. I found this podcast so enlighting and ironically I just told myself this same thing just a few days ago! I can only control my reactions/behaviors and so I am trying to tell myself to take a deep breath and not react immediately or at all when I know that the reaction is most likely going to be one that I am not happy with. As you mentioned, this takes an immense amount of self awareness and it is going to be a work in progress for quite some time. Hearing you recommend this method to help this unhealthy pattern of communication that we have become accustomed to is definitely encouraging. Thank you for offering this. It is exactly what I needed to hear when I searched for some answers tonight.

  9. I’m so glad this was helpful to you! Thank you for listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. 🙂 LMB

  10. How do you deal with an overly sarcastic partner? My partner can be very sarcastic and I know that he says things in jest and usually I can take it in stride, but sometimes – it’s very difficult not to take things personally. What would you recommend?

  11. Tell him how you feel, in a very direct, honest and non confrontational way. Ask for what you’d like to have happen instead. Here’s more advice: “How to Get Your Needs Met in a Relationship.” I hope it helps.

    Lisa

    PS: If he can’t or won’t here you, get involved in couples counseling. Your feelings are important and things like this can fester and grow into resentments that will destroy a relationship, over time.

    PSS: “Sarcasm” is often a thin cover for anger and resentment, in my experience. If you do get your partner into couples counseling with you, it may help him learn how to be more authentic and direct with his feelings instead of hiding behind sarcasm or jokes that aren’t jokes. Then you two can work together to solve problems that will help him feel better too. LMB

  12. Hello, first off I want to say thank you, not only do ur words move me but they help me understand myself and my relationship so much more so again thank you I love you…… so with that being said let me jump right in, my partner and I are going through this cycle of one day we are great talking, understanding each other, being loving and caring and at a blink of an eye I say or do something that puts him into this “ everything I do is wrong” I hate u mode and we are then doing the opposite of all the good things I mentioned above. And this goes back and fourth on and on. I guess what I am asking is how to get off this cycle we are on. When I ask what it is that I am doing to cause him to act out in anger towards me because I want to change it cuz I will do anything to make u not feel this way his response is always “ you don’t know? And that’s it won’t speak another word to me. There is a big age difference between us 10 years him being the older one is that maybe the reason he expects me to know why I make him feel this way? He is always making jokes about I believe to be his true feelings all the time like for example if he doesn’t like something I said while around other people he makes a joke about it and continues to make jokes about the same thing for days at a time what can I do to prevent these things from happening????? Please help me I don’t know what to do….
    thank you,

  13. Cristyna, thanks for your kind words. I’m glad that the relationship podcasts and articles at Growing Self have been helpful to you. With regards to your question: This sounds like a very challenging relationship. It sounds like you’re feeling invalidated by your partner, and like he’s punishing you emotionally. (Hearing some power and control things going on here Cristyna!)

    In my professional opinion, if this is going to change, it’s going to require the support of a good couples therapist: What you have been doing does not seem to be working. Is he open to doing couples counseling or relationship coaching with you?

    If you want to do couples counseling but your partner does not, one thing you might consider is taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz and inviting him to do the same. (In the quiz you have the option of having it emailed to your partner, too). Then you can both take the quiz, and not just get your scores but get access to a series of videos I’ve made that discuss the different relationship domains. I think you two will definitely want to watch the ones related to communication and emotional safety, in particular.

    Perhaps your partner hearing from a “relationship expert” on how some of the things he’s currently doing are destructive to your relationship may be the first step in getting him onboard with the idea of doing couples therapy? FYI, my little videos are in NO way a substitute for actual couples counseling or relationship coaching — they’re just there to provide a little education and direction for free.

    The next step would be to get him into couples counseling to see if this can change. If he won’t go, I hope that you get into some good individual personal growth work that supports YOU in figuring out what is best for you, and how you can make positive changes in yourself that help you set boundaries with people who are not responsive to your emotional needs.

    Hope these ideas help Cristyna, and good luck to you!

    xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  14. If we have a disagreement my wife’s normal reaction is to give me the silent treatment, of which she can hold for days.. and sends me around the bend! It feel like a definitive way to hurt me without having to say anything.. literally. I have historically given us both space to cool off and hope there’s a chance for us to discuss as adults or come together with forgiveness, yet the treatment can continue if/when I try to resolve it. I must stress I’m not losing my cool.. and am not looking to blame, but I’m yet to master how we can resolve issues in a more timely manner. I’m becoming concerned at this pattern, as it’s mentally taxing for me and don’t believe it’s healthy for either of us. Thoughts?

  15. Jay, you’re totally right: This kind of punishing behavior is what Dr. John Gottman (who is THE name in research into marriage and family therapy) has termed one of the “four horseman of the apocalypse” because it is so destructive.

    You are right to be concerned with this pattern, and I sincerely hope that you take effective action now to change this dynamic before it gets worse. (This dynamic tend to intensify over time). Please schedule an appointment with a competent professional marriage counselor who practices either emotionally focused couples therapy or the Gottman method of marriage counseling, both of which are evidence based and have a strong track record of resolving this type of toxic communication dynamic.

    Please also look for someone with an “MFT” after their name, which (usually means they have specialized training and experience in couples and family therapy. (Except in California, interestingly — a lot of MFTs there do not have education or experience with couples! Really!) Avoid therapists with an LPC, or LCSW or even licensed psychologists. They are often happy to work with couples but don’t know enough to know what they don’t know, and it often results in relationships rupturing rather than being repaired.

    If you would like to do this work with someone on the Growing Self team the first step in getting started is to schedule a free consultation session. Whether or not you work with us, I do hope you get help with this. It is unlikely to change otherwise, and if left unresolved, over time, this is the type of dynamic that breeds resentment, anger, damages trust, and which will destroy a marriage. Take action sooner rather than later!

    Wishing you all the best,
    Lisa Marie Bobby

  16. I really found your podcast to be very helpful. Thank you! I feel communication is a big problem in our relationship. I think therapy would help us both (I’m independently seeing a therapist), but my partner has always been resistant. She sees couples therapy as a sign that all is lost, while I think it’s the pursuit of a healthy relationship. If you have any recommendations to help, I would highly appreciate it.

  17. So me and my boyfriend tend to argue over how one of us feels. For example, I am a sensitive person and tend to stress the small things and when I tell him something upsets me he reacts and gets mad which just hurts my feelings more, then he says “I get upset at HIM all the time and it’s all his fault” when clearly I do not try and make him feel like that. I try so hard to make the communication between us but it’s like you said we both react at each other’s reactions and that’s what make it worse. I just don’t know what else I can do. I am going to try what you said in your podcast ‘I can’t control him and his actions only my actions and how I react.’ I really do think that will benefit the both of us… but is there any other advice you can give me to not lead him to think I’m always upset?

  18. This podcast was so enlightening than you so much! I was wondering if you could please hear out my situation since it’s still an issue for us. My boyfriend always shuts down whenever I try and communicate my feelings after we argue. “Just move on its done” or “I’m not trying to be stressed tonight please just stop”. We don’t live together so trying to talk to him over the phone is extremely difficult. Even if I give it a day and ask how he felt he says he’s fine in a passive way. No matter how much I try, he just gets more frustrated every time I ask no matter what. I really need to communicate after an argument especially because I have a strong anxious attachment style and it just consumes me. I want to stay with him on the long run. But he just is so against the idea. Please help!

  19. Hi Alyssa, this sounds so hard! So many couples can get caught in this pursue/withdraw dance, or anxious/avoidant type of dynamic. And it’s painful! You might like the episode “How to Improve Communication – Fast,” or “Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…” It sounds like you’re definitely trying to respect his need to take a break, process, calm down, and generally have some space for all of this – which is so important. Next to that, we can focus on healing and calming that anxious attachment you mention. What an opportunity to focus on YOU, building your self-esteem, reflecting on what boundaries you need to set with yourself and others to take care of YOU. You might also want to read Amir Levine’s book “Attached.” All my best, Dr. Lisa

  20. Hi Ella, I wish I had a magic wand that could “make” people not get upset. Wouldn’t that be helpful to us all! As you mentioned, you can’t control his reactions to your feelings. We do impact our relationships, though, and it’s conscientious of you to take a look at your part. There are some communication tools that can help draw our partner close, rather than push them away: using I statements, being aware of timing, practicing Gottman’s “soft start up,” focusing on your experience rather than analyzing your partner, and being vulnerable… There are more, which a couple’s counselor could help with tremendously. Thank you for reaching out, Dr. Lisa

  21. I’m so glad that you found this podcast helpful. Yes, I do have recommendations. Check out this podcast: What to do if your partner refuses marriage counseling. Also, you might consider listening to this one with her too: Why relationships fail.

    I suggested the last one because I think it’s really important for people to understand that it’s essential to listen to your partner’s complaints and concerns without minimizing them, and being really resistant to working on things because over time, it causes a lot of damage. Sometimes, irreparable damage. I’m not hearing that you guys are in that place, given what you shared. But three more years of this and you might be.

    In my experience, people’s core beliefs about therapy are just that: beliefs. Often tied to culture and preconceived ideas about what it “means” to be involved in growth work.

    You and I know that working on yourself, and working on your relationship is essentially the same thing as everything else we’ve done to become healthy and successful people: We went to school, we exercise, we continue to learn how to do things that carry us in the right direction (managing finances well, being productive and organized with our work, being better parents). We need to keep learning and working on ourselves, always.

    It makes me so incredibly sad that some people have internalized negative messages about what it means to get professional help for personal things like our relationships. Please tell your partner that I said that I believe that the strongest, healthiest, and happiest people are the ones most likely to be in my office. It’s the ones who are wandering around in the world without support, because they feel like working on themselves and their relationships means something “is wrong” — those are the people who struggle and suffer the most.

    I will also say that, in my experience, particularly when it comes to smoothing the rough edges off of communication problems, a relationship coaching model is often much more helpful approach than traditional insight oriented psychotherapy. It just gets to the point, and addresses the things that you can both do to have a nicer experience with each other. If your partner has big feelings about “therapy” I wonder if she’d be more receptive to the idea of getting guidance from a relationship coach?

    Just FYI, if you go that route, please look for a licensed marriage and family therapist who provides relationship coaching. Most therapists have little to no training or experience in couples counseling. Even scarier, there is absolutely no education or credentialing required to call onself a “coach” – relationship or otherwise. Literally anyone can roll out of bed and start calling themselves a coach and accepting clients as such. Caveat emptor, my friend.

    Here is more information on how to find a marriage counselor, and even more on the difference between couples therapy vs relationship coaching if you and your partner are interested in learning more.

    Hope that perspective helps both of you. Wishing you all the best, Dr. Lisa

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