9 signs of poor communication in a relationship — and how to improve it

Poor communication in a relationship can affect your and partner's mental health. So, spot the signs of poor communication in a relationship.
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Poor communication in a relationship is not good. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Updated: 3 May 2024, 09:07 am IST
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Open and effective communication is a critical component in a relationship. Communication basically serves as a bridge between two people. It allows people to share different perspectives and expectations. It is how you and your partner can communicate vulnerabilities, resolve problems, and develop a stronger bond. Poor communication, on the other hand, can be unhealthy for you and your partner. Read on to know the signs of poor communication in a relationship, and how to improve it.

What is the importance of communication in a relationship?

Efficient communication helps in building trust, which serves as the foundation for healthy relationships. By openly communicating their thoughts, feelings, and goals, partners strengthen their relationship by nurturing an environment of transparency and emotional safety, says psychotherapist and life coach Dr Chandni Tugnait.

A couple having an open communication
Communication is important for a healthy relationship. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the causes of poor communication in a relationship?

Here are the main reasons for poor communication in a relationship:

  • A lack of emotional intelligence and self-awareness makes it challenging to detect and express emotions effectively.
  • Unresolved previous traumas, trust concerns, or unpleasant relationship experiences can result in protective communication behaviour such as avoidance or passive aggression.
  • Different communication styles between partners, such as one favouring direct assertiveness while the other prefers a more subtle or indirect approach, can lead to misalignments.
  • External stressors and responsibilities from a job, family, or other obligations draw attention and energy away from the importance of open communication inside the relationship.
  • Lack of vulnerability and unwillingness to openly express thoughts, feelings, and aspirations undermines honesty and emotional safety in the partnership.
  • Poor conflict resolution skills cause fights and disagreements to escalate instead of being resolved via good communication.
  • Underlying resentments, unmet needs, or unresolved difficulties grow and cause emotional distance, making partners less likely to talk openly.
  • Complacency or taking the relationship for granted leads to a reduction in effort to maintain open and honest communication over time.

How does poor communication affect a relationship?

Communication may be connected to satisfaction with a relationship.
According to a 2021 study published in the Sage Journals, couples who experienced less negative communication than usual were more satisfied with their relationship.

The breakdown of open and honest communication in a romantic relationship can throw an unhealthy shadow, gradually corroding the core values of the bond, says the expert. There can be misunderstandings, and the intimacy that once tied the couple together can fade. A lack of excellent communication skills can make confrontations and disagreements insurmountable. Resentments and unmet needs do not get addressed, making it an unhealthy relationship.

How does poor communication affect the people in the relationship?

A lack of efficient communication in a romantic relationship can have serious consequences for the people involved beyond the relationship itself.

  • On a psychological level, poor communication causes each partner to feel lonely, resentful, and dissatisfied, says Dr Tugnait. They may feel misunderstood or ignored, leading to emotional withdrawal or disconnection from their significant other. This emotional gap can cause increased tension, worry, and even despair over time.
  • When communication fails, self-esteem and self-worth suffer as well. Partners may interpret their loved one’s lack of understanding or responsiveness as a reflection of their own value or lovability. This might increase insecurities and reduce self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • The inability to resolve problems constructively through communication can result in a state of constant stress and negativity.
  • Individuals may become locked in cycles of useless fights, criticism, or passive-aggressive behavior, which can be mentally and emotionally tiring, resulting in burnout or emotional numbness.
  • When communication fails, individuals in the relationship may become emotionally stunted, unable to enjoy the closeness, growth, and fulfilment that a healthy relationship may give.

What are the signs of poor communication in a relationship?

Here are the signs of poor communication in a relationship:

1. Frequent arguments and conflicts

When communication breaks down, even little disputes can turn into full-fledged arguments. Conflicts become reoccurring and unresolved when people are unable to adequately express their concerns and listen to one another’s points of view, notes the expert.

2. Making assumptions

Instead of asking for clarity, partners may make assumptions about the other’s thoughts, feelings, or intentions. This can result in misunderstandings and further communication barriers.

3. Defensiveness and criticism

Rather than open and constructive talks, conversations might develop into defensive behaviour or critical remarks. This can come in the way of effective communication and then generate resentment.

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4. Avoidance and stonewalling

In order to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable conversations, one or both the parties may use avoidance tactics or fully shut down (stonewalling). This can worsen the breakdown in communication.

5. Lack of quality time

Failure to prioritise quality time together away from distractions might result in a steady decline in meaningful communication. Lovers will also find to strengthen their emotional connection.

6. Passive-aggressive behaviour

In the case of direct communication failure, people may opt for passive-aggressive behaviour. So, sarcasm, silent treatment, or indirect expressions of dissatisfaction can become a problematic coping technique.

7. Unresolved issues

Persistent failure to discuss and resolve arguments or disagreements can result in an accumulation of unsolved issues. This can cause emotional distance and animosity, says Dr Tugnait.

8. Emotional withdrawal

Poor communication can cause couples to emotionally withdraw from one another. This can result in a lack of intimacy, vulnerability, and emotional connection.

9. Lack of active listening

Partners who do not actively listen to each other may miss vital clues. They may fail to comprehend each other’s points of view, and struggle to communicate successfully.

How to improve communication?

You can improve communication in your relationship by following these tips –

1. Practice active listening

Active listening is all about giving your complete attention, avoiding interruptions, and attempting to genuinely comprehend your partner’s point of view. To demonstrate engagement, use strategies such as rephrasing, clarifying questions, and providing nonverbal clues such as eye contact and nodding.

2. Make use of “I” statements

Use “I” words to convey your feelings and needs without blaming your partner, says the expert. For example, “I feel hurt when we are not able to spend quality time together” is more impactful than “You never make time for me”.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

Set aside time on a regular basis to have open, distraction-free chats about your relationship worries or simply to reconnect emotionally. These check-ins, which can be done once a week, provide a safe environment for open communication.

4. Learn your partner’s love language

Understand each other’s preferred love languages. They can be words of affirmation or quality time. They can help you communicate love and appreciation in ways that are meaningful to your partner.

A couple with poor communication problem
Manage conflicts constructively with your partner. Image courtesy: Freepik

5. Manage conflicts constructively

When differences develop, treat them as a team working toward a solution, not as adversaries. Take breaks as needed, and prioritise understanding each other’s views, suggests Dr Tugnait.

6. Express appreciation and compliments

Regularly use expressions of genuine appreciation, thanks, and compliments. These can foster a positive communication dynamic and reinforce emotional relationships.

If communication challenges continue to cause substantial strain in your relationship, consult with a couple’s therapist or counsellor who can provide vital skills and strategies for enhancing interaction.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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