You don’t have to be a relationship expert to know that communication is an important component of a romantic relationship (or any relationship, for that matter). But do both people have to be good communicators in order for your relationship to go the distance? “Yes and no,” says Dr. Deborah Sandella, a psychotherapist and author of the international best seller Goodbye Hurt & Pain. “If you have at least one person in the couple that is able to be compassionate and sense the feelings surrounding the other … it significantly increases the chances of having a successful long-term relationship,” Sandella says, citing various research. This compassion and vulnerability come from the person's emotional intelligence, or the ability to be in touch with your own feelings and have sensitivity to those of your partner. In order to relate to your S.O., you need to communicate in some way, so communication and emotional intelligence are inextricably linked.
And what happens when neither person in the couple communicates well? Both individuals become impatient, disappointed, blame the other, and then eventually move on. The good news is that only one-half of the couple has to be a good communicator—the other will ultimately learn—so you can make sure you’re doing your part.
Curious how to become a top-notch communicator, or whether you already are one? Dr. Sandella has decided to share some of her expert advice—all 40-plus years of it—with us. Below, you’ll find the top communication problems that occur in romantic relationships and exactly how you should navigate them.
You Don't Ask Interesting Questions
One communication problem in a relationship is not continuing to be curious about our partner. We have to intentionally construct ways to see each other in novel and new ways so we can see the person we fell in love with at the beginning, Sandella says. She calls it “bringing back the lovers.” One tool she and her husband use is sitting down and having a conversation, pretending they’ve never met before. By asking each other engaging questions, they're able to shed light on each other in a new way, leading to better mutual appreciation. Compliments are contagious, so once you start dealing them out to your S.O., you’ll receive them in return, and that will feel really good.
You Use the Wrong Tone of Voice
Our body automatically responds to the way someone says something—even if the content itself isn’t threatening. Sandella says of course you can ask your partner questions, but it’s how you ask them. Is it coming from a place of pure curiosity? Then it’s totally fine. But if it’s coming from a confrontational place (Why didn’t you pay that bill? Why didn’t you call me last night?), then your partner will likely feel attacked or blamed.
But then how do you deal with conflict and not have a communication problem in your relationship? Sandella says you should start by centering yourself because the act of having to be right comes from a place of insecurity within us. Once you move into a feeling of pure curiosity, you are able to actually understand what the other person is experiencing, so you can appreciate their thoughts and feelings. Which brings us to…
You're Not Actively Listening
“In the end, we want to be seen and heard … that’s what it’s about,” Sandella says. If your partner is speaking, you need to wholeheartedly listen, and vice versa. Sandella suggests a specific mirroring tool to interrupt a debate or a fight (it does not require agreement and that should not be the end goal). Begin by listening to your partner and before responding, mirror back what you think they said. If your partner acknowledges you got it right, you can then respond, and then they will mirror your response until they get it right. “It’s really a win-win, whether you agree on the contents or not,” Sandella says. “Because you understand each other’s place so it’s easier to come to agreement, like how are we going to handle this?” This trick enables you to slow down and really hear the other person out, which is something that will become more natural as time goes on.
You Avoid Having a Conversation
When we stop communicating with our partner altogether, we often start to make up stories in our head about the situation that aren’t actually true. The best piece of advice Sandella has for this is to see each other as regularly as possible and try to stick to phone calls rather than text messages and emails. “Through texting, or even email … you get a bit of a distorted sense of communication that is more superficial,” she says. These superficial conversations don’t let us get to know our partner on a deeper level and are often responsible for misunderstandings. Remember, face time is important to avoid this common communication problem in relationships.
You Take Your Partner for Granted
During the beginning stages of dating, all we can think about is how this person is amazing. Once we’re in an actual relationship with that person, we mainly start to see (and talk about) their faults. “The things that we like, we don’t talk about, may not acknowledge, may not be appreciative of, and the things that we don’t like, we get very loud about it,” says Sandella. It’s actually all based on science and how our brain works. Back in the days of the cavemen, our brain had to be very critical and discerning because every situation was life or death. What we don’t realize is we still have this part of the brain that goes off sometimes, and it doesn’t discern between physical and emotional danger.
Sandella suggests taking a few deep breaths to calm down, allowing the emotionally intelligent part of our brain to kick in. This will allow us to have compassion and insight and the ability to actually communicate with our partner. "The critical pieces will come automatically, and they will be more frequent because that’s the way our brain’s wired," Sandella says. "We have to intentionally increase our conscious appreciation of the other person … like three times more."
What do you think of these tips for better communication? Have you ever experienced any of these communication problems in your relationship?