Communication Challenges in Intimate Relationships

The term “perfect relationship” is an oxymoron.

When two people decide to make a go of it in an intimate relationship, each of them brings their own set of expectations, norms and most likely, some baggage from past relationships.

Communication is key. Without communication, a relationship is doomed.

The unfortunate reality about communication amongst couples is that it doesn’t always come naturally to both people. Communication styles vary significantly, which can mean a lot of misunderstandings and pain.

When both people are committed to the process, healthy communication styles can become the norm.

Where Communication Breaks Down

There are many reasons couples might struggle with communication.

Different communication styles modeled in childhood:

We learn about relationships and communication styles from our parents at a very early age. If one person grew up with a family who yelled a lot, that will likely inform the way they communicate in relationships as an adult.

Imagine if that person paired up with someone who came from a stoic family in which the parents modeled the silent treatment (refusing to talk when upset).

These very different styles may influence the way a couple interprets one another’s reactions or put them into unfamiliar emotional territory.

Attachment styles:

The way someone’s needs are responded to in early childhood (the need for physical and emotional care), helps to determine their attachment style.

Insecure attachment styles can make it difficult to communicate and interpret information, as there is frequently an expectation of being let down, or a general sense of distrust for others.

Assumed understanding:

Even couples who have been together for awhile can fall into the trap of assumption. Sometimes we forget that our thoughts and the way we process information is not necessarily like our partner’s.

Communication can suffer when we conclude that our partner already knows what we think, feel or intend.


Daily life and responsibilities often take over our focus in life. When couples are distracted from communication efforts because of the daily grind, it can take a toll on the relationship.

How to Improve Communication

Communication style is not carved in stone. There are ways to learn about your own style and learn how to express your needs and understand your partner’s needs.

Accessing couples counseling can be a useful way to explore the communication issues in one’s own relationship with an objective professional. There are a lot of resources out there for couples to explore.

Sometimes just reading an article or trying a new idea to improve communication can be a life-changing event.

One of the most basic ideas for improving communication is to listen for meaning and ask questions with love. Rather than jumping to a defensive place with your partner, ask a question like “can you help me understand?”

Even asking a simple clarifying question like “what do you need to feel loved and supported right now?” is a powerful statement of commitment and dedication. You can never ask too many loving, supportive questions.

Improving communication takes consistency and dedication to the process.

When frustrations mount in intimate relationships, it can cause us to revert to our least-healthy communication patterns.

Stay strong in your commitment to slow down and communicate well. It may take some improved mindfulness tactics and you may need to step away for some deep breaths, but the end result of a solid, healthy communication style is well worth the effort.

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