9 Reasons Your Communication Sucks
Updated: Mar 3
If you’re like most couples, you communicate fine. Until you don’t. One minute you’re having a discussion, the next minute you’re fighting again. Your voice gets louder; your tone becomes sarcastic and demeaning. You end up feeling angry or hurt again. What happened?
You’re normal. But you don’t have to be a normal couple neck deep in conflict wondering what happened and where you went wrong. You can have a wonderful marriage and learn to experience better communication.
Look for the most obvious source.
Your communication breakdown is not random like it seems. Interacting with your spouse contains many variables. It’s important to look at the setting and background of your communication fail to see how you can improve. A few years ago I talked to a friend of mine who is a family practice doctor. He explained doctors are trained to look for the most obvious or most common source of illness and rule it out before going on to conduct other testing for more obscure or rare diseases which could account for the problem. You need to do the same in your marriage. Don’t assume your current communication problem is a serious relationship disorder or deep childhood scarring preventing you from understanding each other. Look for the obvious first. Communication breaks down the most when:
Communicating when tired is like driving when you are sleepy. It’s dangerous. Proceed with caution. Communication takes focus; when your ability to focus deteriorates you crash. It’s best to shorten conversations or pause them until morning if you are tired. Continue your conversation after you have rested when you can have a coherent thought and responsible reaction again.
Our bodies need fuel. Kindergarten teachers know kids need a snack. Adults forget to fuel their bodies and get grumpy. Communicating with a hungry bear goes better after you give them a fat salmon.
Communication get tense when you are facing a deadline at work or dealing with another mini crisis like your kids yelling and fighting over the bag of Cheetos. Anxiety is related to stress in that it can feel like stress another major reason for poor communication.
You’re sick or in pain.
The way our bodies feel impact our ability to communicate effectively. The worse your spouse feels the more difficult it is to say what you mean. People who hit their thumb with a hammer say words they would normally not say. The same happens when you feel sick or are experiencing physical pain.
For a humorous look at relationships during times of sickness check out my blog post In Sickness.
Communicating with a spouse while they are looking at their phone is like talking to a mannequin and feels equally awkward. You may feel like you can check Facebook and talk to your spouse at the same time but you can’t. Your communication stinks when you are distracted.
Pay attention to what is going on right now.
The obvious answer is often the best answer. You must address the immediate barriers to your communication first. Forcing communication when you’re tired is not a good idea. The advice of “never go to bed angry” is great advice only if you’re not tired. If you are tired pausing your conversation and getting some sleep is much better than trying to resolve communication problems when you are tired. But wait, there’s never a time when you’re not tired? I’ve been there. When we first became parents we didn’t know what day it was or even if it was day or night. You can still communicate when tired but you have to be aware of your diminished capacity. Acknowledge the obvious barrier to good communication.
Waiting until the world is perfect will never work but you can overcome common barriers to good communication fairly quickly. Get food, then communicate. Put your phone down, then communicate. Notice what is going on for your spouse. It may be helpful to start a conversation by pointing out the obvious. For example say: “I know you are stressed because of your work deadline and I love your dedication. Can we please talk a minute about the kid’s dentist appointment tomorrow?” Pointing out the primary external barrier always works better than “hey! you never pay attention to me. I said you have to take the kids to the dentist tomorrow!”
Major barriers need attention too.
Not all barriers to good communication are immediately obvious or superficial. Major barriers must get resolved before you can proceed with effective communication in marriage. These major barriers can be signs of deeper emotional issues in the relationship.
Lying to your spouse in any form crushes trust. Even “stretching the truth” to avoid an argument cripples communication. It may seem like a no brainer but I’ve seen couples in counseling who regularly lie to their partner and wonder why their relationship is not working and intimacy is suffering.
You’re not listening.
For good communication in marriage you have to listen to your spouse and feel listened to. Without listening it doesn’t matter what is said, communication will falter. Relationships without listening cannot thrive and often don’t survive.
Spouse’s who criticize each other constantly cannot develop good communication. You may not even realize you are critical of your spouse. Would your spouse say you are their biggest cheerleader? If you don’t communicate your support of your spouse you likely come across as too critical. You must recognize your destructive pattern and stop criticizing your spouse before you can experience wonderful communication.
Spouses go beyond criticism and hurt each other by repeatedly opening old emotional wounds. Touching painful emotions will happen in marriage, it’s unavoidable, but couples who relentlessly jab their partner’s previous hurts destroy connection. You know what topics are sensitive or painful in your marriage. Perhaps it’s money, visiting the in-laws, or a former addiction.
Your communication may suck for a variety of reasons, immediately obvious, or deeper in nature. The good news is you don’t have to stay in your same pattern of terrible communication.