How To Communicate Better in a Relationship – 10 Bad Habits To Stop

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There’s an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Ironically, that elephant is communication—or the lack of it—in relationships. Communication can make or break your relationship.

American film producer Robert Evans once said, “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”

You and your partner and each see your relationship in a slightly different way—and that’s OK. But how can you bridge the gap between your two sides to consistently find the truth together?

We’ve narrowed down the top ten communication issues in relationships. We’ll address each one and offer tips for how to overcome common communication mistakes in relationships. With a little help, you can truly thrive together.

What Makes Communication Difficult in a Relationship?

If you’re struggling to communicate with your partner, you’re not alone. Many of us face similar hurdles, even if we don’t talk about them. Communication, in general, is difficult.

Add in the intense feelings that intimate relationships often provoke, and communicating effectively becomes that much harder. Yet there is hope! Being aware of communication hurdles can help you overcome them. These five communication challenges are prevalent in many relationships:

  1. Words may seem like threats. When our ancient ancestors faced physical threats, their bodies produced a biological reaction. The reaction was similar to a warning system that lets them know danger was near. When we feel threatened by words—even subconsciously—that same biological response can occur.
  1. We talk about complex issues. For example, if you and your partner have different interests, career paths or cultural backgrounds, you may have to work harder to relate to one another. Trying to explain complex issues to each other may feel frustrating and not even worth the time. Listening to your partner when you don’t understand can feel just as frustrating.
  1. Perceptions are unique. You tell a story or share information with a clear intention in mind. Your partner hears your words, but comprehends them in a different way. This can lead to innocent misunderstandings that later blow up into arguments.

  2. Emotions can fog your brain. Communication gets trickier when emotions are running high. When you experience a fight-or-flight response to your partner’s words, your judgment may get cloudy. You may not be able to listen as well.  Your emotions may also change how you relay statements to your partner.

  3. We forget to practice active listening. It’s easy to get distracted when your brain is going wild with comebacks or things to say next . You stop listening actively to your partner as soon as you start planning how you’re going to respond to them. It may not be obvious to you that you’re not listening, but it is obvious to your partner.
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What Are 10 Common Communication Mistakes?

As one of the most common reasons for divorce, communication issues deserve some attention. Many of these communication mistakes will leave you nodding your head as you draw parallels to your own relationship. The good news is: it’s never too late to improve your communication and your relationship.

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  1. Not asking one another for support. Your partner is your partner for a reason. Being vulnerable, opening up, and asking each other for support when needed are signs of healthy interdependence. When you stop seeking support from one another, you stop sharing important aspects of your lives. Ways to support one another include:
  • Taking concerns seriously
  • Offering help with big decisions
  • Encouraging one another to achieve goals
  1. Lacking intimacy in conversations. Connection happens when you share meaningful life details with one another. You allow your lives to intertwine and become one. When this intimacy is missing, it can lead to:
  • Difficulty reading one another’s emotions
  • Less frequent physical interaction, including sex
  • Fewer date nights, or one-on-one quality time
  • Limiting communication to household topics and combined finances
  1. Failing to check in/allowing your connection to fade. When communication is lacking, it is inevitable that you grow apart. Have you changed? Has your partner changed? It may be that you feel the disconnect caused by a lack of communication.
  2. Jumping to conclusions. When you have an intimate relationship with someone, it’s easy to assume you know what they’re going to say. We all make assumptions about how other people feel sometimes. When it comes to relationships, these assumptions are  dangerous territory. Instead of assuming, take a step back. Ask your partner clarifying questions and really try to understand what they’re sharing with you and why.
  3. Using words like “always” and “never.” For example: “You never (take out the trash/help with the laundry/listen to me).” Or: “You always (think you’re right/play video games/talk on your phone).” Words like “always” and “never” are dangerous because they are usually inaccurate. Plus, they leave your partner feeling defensive, which can lead to arguments and misunderstandings. Replace these words with “I” statements.
Replace “You never…” Replace “You always…”
I’m feeling stressed because I’ve noticed the trashcan is overflowing. I understand why you feel X about X. I think that….
I need help with the laundry more often. I would love it if we spent 30 minutes together in the evening before doing our separate activities.
I just need to share how I feel right now; please hear me out without trying to fix things or offer advice. It would help me feel loved and supported if you could put your phone down to listen to me.

  1. Criticizing too often. Constructive criticism is fantastic for growth. But too much criticism can drag you down. When you begin to hear too many negative things about yourself, you may wonder what there is that’s good.

    Even if you don’t mean to hurt your partner, criticism can feel personal. This doesn’t mean you should avoid discussing relationship issues. Still, make sure to balance your requests and constructive criticism with as much praise and gratitude as possible. Find ways to compliment your partner and show you appreciate them.
  2. Interrupting. When you interrupt your partner, you imply that what you want to say is more important. Even though this may not be your intention, it can still hurt. You may get excited about the topic of conversation and want to share something to connect. Even so, set your thoughts aside and let your partner finish before you take a turn to speak.
  3. Forgetting to be empathetic. Your partner may feel upset about something that wouldn’t bother you. Avoid the tendency to shrug off their concerns. Instead, put yourself in their shoes and think about how they feel. Show your partner that you understand by rephrasing their perspective  back to them. Ask questions to show that you’re listening and emotionally engaging.
  4. Being passive-aggressive. It’s easy to get angry and to want to hurt your partner with your words. We’ve all made passive-aggressive comments that we regret right away. The thing is, hurting one another with snarky remarks isn't healthy communication. If something is truly bothering you, address it in a straightforward manner.
  5. Avoiding difficult subjects.  Conflicts happen all the time: at work, at home, and in our social lives. The best way to resolve conflicts is by having open, honest conversations.  However, instead of tackling these difficult discussions head-on, we often try to avoid them at all costs. We imagine all the ways these conversations might go horribly wrong.  In our imaginations, such talks never end well.

    But ignoring relationship problems won’t make them go away. Take deep breaths if it helps you, and then work with your partner to establish common ground. Start by reflecting on what’s going well in your relationship, before addressing what you need to work on. This can help make difficult conversations a little easier for both of you.

    If you find that you both avoid difficult conversations, you may need a relationship counselor to help. Alternatively, with the Together app, you can work through your relationship issues from anywhere, at your own pace.
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Can a Relationship Survive Without Communication?

You may be able to survive without communication, but you will never thrive. Without communication, you go through the motions of a relationship. Poor communication skills can leave you angry and frustrated, but a lack of communication leads to living separate lives.

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Remember: even when you think you're not communicating at all, you still are to some extent. You're always communicating non-verbally through your body language. These cues can make or break communication in relationships.

Why is Communication Vital in a Relationship?

Communication impacts all aspects of a relationship. Clear communication and mutual understanding makes a relationship stronger. Unhealthy or poor communication can damage a relationship beyond repair. You begin talking less and less in an effort to avoid negative feelings. As communication dwindles, you may feel:

  • Isolated or lonely
  • Resentment toward your partner
  • Like you don’t care anymore

If your relationship is teetering on the edge of brokenness, it’s time to take steps to restore what you once had together.

Try These Therapist-Recommended Couples Communication Exercises

Are you and your partner actively trying to improve your communication styles? These couples communication exercises are a great place to start.

The Communication Exercise Techniques
Active listening Listen without interrupting and without thinking about how you plan to respond. When your partner has finished speaking, ask questions for clarification.
Practice gratitude A little appreciation goes a long way. Challenge yourself to say ‘thank you’ for even the smallest of tasks. This helps in two ways. It shows your partner that you notice their actions. It also rewires your brain for positive thinking.
Check in daily Prioritize talking about your days. Share your feelings and day-to-day experiences with one another, and listen. Engage in meaningful conversations as a way of connecting amidst the chaos of everyday life.
Offer advice sparingly Unless your partner asks for specific advice, resist the urge to jump in with your ideas and solutions. Sometimes our partners just need us to listen and empathize without trying to problem-solve.

What is the Secret of Effective Communication?

We’ve all passed those older couples in the grocery store holding hands and looking at each other lovingly. You can tell by the way they move that they’re in sync with one another. It leaves you wondering…what is the secret to a healthy relationship?

We know that effective communication tops the list. ABC News interviewed four couples, each married at least 50 years. Here’s what they had to say:

  • "I don’t really know if there’s any secrets. We just respect each other and we love each other. We’re best friends."
  • “We work it out and we get along. We go forward. We're both understanding and can appreciate each point of view, and we try to correct those problems. It's discussed and dropped.”
  • "We have so few conflicts, but we talk about it. She expresses her side and I express mine."
  • "You have to hear what the other person has to say and try to put yourself in their shoes and try to feel the way the other person is feeling."

Words like patience, listen, respect, and try appear throughout their interviews. Each one of these is a key to effective communication with your partner.

Closing Thoughts From Together

Keep in mind that when it comes to improving communication in your relationship, there is no end goal. There is always work to do, and you may slip back into old habits. The goal of a successful relationship is to commit to improving your communication with one another in the long term. We must fight the urge to always be right or “win” an argument; because the bottom line is that when you’re fighting, no one is winning.

If you need help building a strong foundation for communication in your relationship, we may be able to help. Check out our app to get started with an interactive alternative to couples therapy.

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