Communication and relationships

Published in Blog by Tavistock Relationships on July 11th 2023

The ability to communicate well, and keep communicating, is key to sustaining our relationships with friends, family and, most importantly, our romantic partners.

Not only does good communication allow us to foster strong and lasting bonds, but it can also help us manage conflict much more effectively. Maintaining this ability can be difficult though, over time, and it’s a very common issue that couples face.

Figuring out what is causing a communication blip with our partner - whether it’s related to stress or fear, for example, or more to do with defensiveness or a lack of trust - can be both challenging and frustrating but, ultimately, hugely worthwhile.

Common communication difficulties

Every couple is different of course, but there are a number of fairly typical ways in which communication difficulties can play out in a relationship.

Are you finding, for example, that you are being interrupted each time you try to speak? Or perhaps you yourself find it difficult to allow your partner to say what they want to say? Or do you find yourselves arguing for hours without really listening to each other? Then picking up the same argument later on, or on a different day, from exactly where you started?

When you are in a longer term relationship, it’s not that uncommon for people to find themselves feeling like they can't talk openly to their partner, or that they get defensive when talking to them. For example, we might crave closeness in our relationships but fear that we might be rejected if we show that we are vulnerable, or need support. As a result, we might choose to act defensively towards our partner, or criticise them. Or we might start behave in other, unhelpful ways, but all based on a fundamental fear of how our partner will react when we try to express how we feel, and our worries around whether they will have the emotional capacity and/or willingness to listen sensitively to our concerns.

However, an important part of couples communicating effectively is being able to express our needs or feelings in an appropriate manner without making the other person feel attacked.

Using "I" statements can have a real impact on improving communication between partners. Why? Because when using "I" statements (“I really love living with you but I’m struggling with how we organise the house” rather than “You never tidy up. Why do you leave your stuff all over the place the whole time?”), partners take responsibility for their actions and emotions instead of assuming what the other person may be thinking and feeling. This approach prevents them from playing the 'blame game', which almost always results in communication difficulties.

Another important aspect of effective communication is understanding the difference between listening and hearing.

Another important aspect of effective communication is understanding the difference between listening and hearing. Yes, we can listen – but are we really able to hear what our partner is saying to us? Not feeling heard can be a powerful, and isolating, experience which can exacerbate communication issues, and compound relationship difficulties. 

How a therapist can help

Sometimes transitioning from listening to actually hearing each other requires the assistance of a therapist, such as the ones at Tavistock Relationships, who can help keep the conversation on topic and provide pointers for better listening and appropriate communicating. And sometimes the structure and setting of a couple therapy session can enable one or both partners to express how they really feel, perhaps for the first time in a long while.

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