Relationships: Why communication so often fails between couples

Neil Rosenthal

Couples often lose their ability to communicate after time. It could be because of one partner's inability to be wrong or lack of empathy.
Special to the Daily

I’ve heard it easily a thousand times from couples I’ve treated in marriage counseling. “We have a hard time communicating.” “We don’t communicate well.” “We get in an argument when we talk,” and a hundred other variations of that theme.

The question is: Why? What happens to couples that once communicated well with each other, but now have stopped? Why is it so common for couples to lose their ability to effectively communicate with each other over time? I’ll try to cover the biggest reasons couples lose their ability to communicate.

Losing control over your emotions: Blowing your top, hitting your partner below the belt with hurtful comments, sarcasm, name-calling or character assassination are all destined to escalate emotions between people, rather than calming emotions or fixing issues that are troubling one of you. Lose control of your emotions repeatedly, or act like a drama queen or king often enough, and your partner will cease communicating with you entirely. You must be able to separate your partner or spouse from the conflict at hand, or there will be no solution.

Responding defensively or not accepting responsibility for what you’ve done: “You’ve done it too” or “I couldn’t help it,” or “Everyone does it” is a poor explanation for trying to justify bad judgment or poor behavior. “You’re right. I screwed up. I can do better, and I’ll hold myself accountable for making sure I do better in the future” is way more effective.

Not listening to or not hearing the other person: This includes giving cold silent treatment and dismissing the other person, their concerns or what they say, as well as clamming up or acting tone deaf. This leaves your mate feeling unheard, so the issue will persist and continue into the future. Good listening entails leaning forward, nodding your head to show you understand, correctly summarizing what you have heard, responding in a civil and courteous way and looking to fix or solve the issue at hand — with no defensiveness, underhanded zingers, anger or resentment.

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Not responding with compassion, validation, empathy or friendliness: This is the biggest sin of all. If you can’t be friendly to your partners’ feelings, who can they count on that will be?

Communicating to prove yourself right: Proving yourself right rather than communicating in order to solve or resolve a conflict or an issue. If you can’t be wrong, you are not mature enough to be in a relationship. This is why good relationships are only possible between two adults who have reasonable self-esteem.

Repeatedly hitting your partner over the head with mistakes: Bringing up issues from the past will not fix an issue or a problem today. It is more likely to cause your partner to want to give up and not want to talk with you at all.

Having a history of violating agreements in the past: This insures your word is worthless and you cannot be trusted and therefore there is no point in talking to someone who has no credence or integrity, and who cannot be believed.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster, Colorado. He is the author of the number one bestselling book “Love, Sex, and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777 or visit

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