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Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan
Relationship Problems and Communication Problems
Relationship problems are inevitable in marriage. That term can be very broad, so let’s break that down a little more specifically. Because, when I ask couples what I can help them with, the most common response is “communication problems.” This is what they would call their biggest relationship problem.
In my mind, this term has become a catch-all expression for couples who aren’t really sure what is wrong or who haven’t yet been ready to face deeper issues. They don’t realize they are actually communicating all the time through non-verbal body language, yelling, or even the silent treatment.
Problems arise because, as individuals, they don’t recognize the message being sent to them or even the message they are sending to their significant other. After exploring their situation further, I often find that there is much more going on than simple communication problems. It’s important to take a look at what else is happening for these couples.
So, let’s break down the idea of “communication problems” to see what could really be lurking below:
Your primary emotions are often difficult to feel because they are uncomfortable (hurt, loneliness, jealousy, etc.). Because they are uncomfortable, you often cover them up with other emotions. Enter: Anger. Anger loves to disguise what you are really feeling. It gives you the illusion that you are dealing with the issue, when in fact, you are getting further and further away from it by trying to satisfy and quench our anger.
Solution: When you find communication breaking down and find yourself getting angry or lashing out at your spouse, ask yourself this question, “What am I really feeling?” This will help you dig deeper in order to recognize, feel, and cope with what’s really going on (see article on Emotions 101). Anger obviously leads to relationship problems because it masks the real issue.
You have heard of Dad coming home after a bad day at work and kicking the dog in the driveway because he almost tripped over him. The dog did nothing to deserve it other than being alive, but still got the brunt of Dad’s frustration. Similarly, you often displace your difficulties onto your partner. Sometimes you don’t tell them what’s really bothering you and sometimes you do. But either way, communication problems arise because you are struggling with work, children, in-laws, money, self-esteem or other issues not related to your partner.
Solution: I suggest that when you find yourself displacing issues on your partner, recognize that you are doing so and talk to your partner about what you’re really struggling with. You might find a helping hand waiting for you. And they are a lot more likely to lend that hand when you approach them with vulnerability instead of anger.
You carry past problems and emotional injuries with you throughout life. What happened to you last week, during the first week of marriage or even when you were a child can impact how you relate to your partner today. If your partner has hurt you in the past, you are less likely to feel emotionally (or even physically) safe. In your attempt to guard our emotions, you put up walls or distance yourselves, which increases communication problems.
Solution: I suggest that when a past injury is lingering, address it with your partner. If you are unable to solve it, then seek professional help. When your leg is broken, you go to the doctor; when your relationship is broken, you go to a therapist. They are trained to help you through these difficult issues.
Lack of Communication Skills
Sometimes you don’t communicate well because you simply don’t know how. Learning basic principles of communication will empower you to express yourself in a healthy manner. By going to school, you learn how to be doctors, teachers, or lawyers, but you don’t learn the basics of human interaction and communication. The learning process doesn’t just come naturally to everyone. Deliberate learning and application will help you become an effective communicator.
When it comes to marital communication, John Gottman (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) and Susan Johnson (Hold Me Tight) have paved the way through research and practice. Read these books and practice with your partner. You will get better. If you need help applying the principles in those books, we have therapists who knows how to apply those models can help in couples therapy.
Solution: When communication with your partner becomes difficult, remember that the underlying problem may not simply be that one of you lacks communication skills. Think about what could be hiding below the growing anger or distance between you. As you search this out, you may discover deeper issues that you can discuss and deal with together. You might recognize that you need help from a therapist as well.