3 Common Reasons Why Your Communication Isn't Working (And How to Fix It)


3 Common Reasons Why Your Communication Isn't Working (And How to Fix It)

“Communication” has become such a buzzword in relationships that it can easily lose meaning. We see it as an elusive goal, a vague solution, a box to be checked. What many people don’t realize is that we’re always communicating, whether or not it’s intentional.

Silence, body language, and actions (or inactions) are forms of communication as influential as any verbal expression. Additionally, tone, word choice, and clarity are every bit as important as the idea or feeling we’re trying to share.

There are so many moving parts when we begin the journey toward healthy communication. One of the clearest ways to improve your communication pattern is to identify what isn’t working. From there, you can develop alternate ideas for how to successfully grow as teammates and partners. 

Three Reasons for the Breakdown in Communication

Below are 3 of the primary reasons I see couples experience a breakdown in communication. Ask yourself if you see any of these patterns in your own relationship, and use this as an opportunity to right the ship.

Focusing on the other person, which assigns blame. 

When communication is all about what the other person is doing (or not doing), defensiveness will overpower the possibility for a productive conversation. Suddenly, both partners are justifying their actions, which only furthers the divide by creating two “sides.” Remember, you and your partner are on the same team. Here are some phrases to avoid:

  • “I feel like you…”
  • “You are the one who…”
  • Any sentence with the words “always” or “never”
  • “It’s not my fault” or “I have nothing to apologize for” 

Avoiding expressing a clear need, which diminishes the other person’s ability to support you.

Because many of us were raised without a model of clear and open communication during childhood, honest language as adults can leave us feeling exposed and embarrassed. Perhaps we’ve been told that in “good” relationships, your partner should naturally know what you need. The truth is that no amount of love can turn you or your partner into a mind-reader. 

Sharing what’s going on internally not only allows your partner to meet unseen needs on a practical level, but reignites the process of getting to know one another– which is one of the best ways to feel connected and unified. Here are a few signs you may be avoiding expressing a clear need:

  • You find yourself talking a lot about what you wish they’d do differently rather than what you do want from them
  • You feel resentment bubbling up and are managing a short fuse
  • You hold the other person to your personal standards, believing that standards are or “should be” universal
  • When you do share what you need, it’s focused on their behavior rather than your internal, vulnerable experience as to why that’s a need for you

Viewing the other person with old lenses and unhealed wounds, not leaving space for growth.

Let’s step outside of the romantic relationship for a moment– I’m going to use the parent/child relationship in order to paint this picture. 

Something that often frustrates my clients is when a parent still treats them like an adolescent. The parent may see the grown child as someone irresponsible, undeveloped, or a projection of who they imagined their child would become. In that kind of relationship, the parent is trying to interact with a person that no longer exists, making the communication almost insensible– which incites frustration from the child. 

Now take that scenario and apply it to your partnership. Are you communicating with your partner in a way that recognizes who they are in this moment, or are you communicating with a version of them from your past– perhaps even a version of them that never existed? Here are some things to look out for:

  • Making assumptions about the intentions behind their behavior
  • Perceiving them with old scripts in mind, predicting what they’ll say or do next
  • Mimicking what your parents said to you as a child, or what you saw them say to each other

If you can learn to catch yourself entering these three pitfalls of communication, then you have the opportunity to turn around and march in a healthier direction.


Dr. Tracy