We just don't talk anymore. How can we move forward?

Communication breakdown

For many couples the breakdown of communication happens very gradually. Couples in this situation are often able to communicate at a functional level - about what is happening during the week, who is picking up the kids, how much the gas bill was and so on - but not at a more intimate level. Conversations about spending time as a couple, hopes and fears for the future, feelings about the relationship are few and far between and often inconclusive.

People talk about drifting apart without really noticing. Sometimes work, interests such as sport or music, friends, children or other family commitments take precedence so that the couple relationship gets forgotten. When the couple – or more usually one partner – notices they’re not really communicating, it often seems that they are almost living separately.

It may be that people don’t talk because it’s too difficult to know where to start. There may be a hope that difficulties will resolve themselves if ignored for long enough. There may be a fear that talking about feeling that things aren’t great will lead to the end of the relationship. Other people feel that they can’t talk to their partner without hurting them. They may feel they’ll be misunderstood or just not able to express what they need to say. For other people, talking is frightening because it leads to arguments and conflict that will never be resolved.

People often say communication has broken down because their partner never listens. Again there can be many reasons for this. It may be that communication is based on assumption. Each partner ‘knows’ what the other is going to say so feels there is no point in listening. Or it may be that attempts to talk are interrupted when the couple or one partner is distracted by for example children coming in, by something coming up on TV, by Facebook, by email or text messages.

Moving forward

In the table below there are some suggestions about how to move from conversations that seem to go nowhere to conversations that help couples feel they are communicating well.

Features of good communication
  • Both partners are relaxed
  • Giving each other undivided attention
  • Open questions- ‘What do you think about….?’
  • Some explanation of thinking /expression of interest
  • Being ready to hear something new, genuinely wanting to know partner’s view
  • Agreeing a time to speak – and for how long
  • Knowing you have some uninterrupted time – anything from 10 – 30 minutes
  • Agreeing it’s ok to say ‘I’m not sure’/ ‘I don’t know’ if this is backed up with some acknowledgement that the issue is something that needs thinking about and a commitment to return to the subject
  • Both being ready to start a conversation
  • Listening, taking turns to speak

Sometimes couples can start to communicate again simply by acknowledging that they have got out of the habit of talking to each other and agreeing that they will put aside time to talk. This might be at the same time each week or may be on a more ad hoc basis. Some couples find this easiest to do at home. Some go out of the home.

Sometimes though, couples feel they’ve tried to do this but it hasn’t helped. In these situations couple counselling can be effective in helping partners to explore and understand the couple dynamic. From there the couple can find new ways to communicate.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wokingham, Berkshire, RG41
Written by Fay Hanniker, BA Hons; MA; MBACP Accred
Wokingham, Berkshire, RG41

Fay Hanniker is a Relate - trained relationship counselling working in private practice in Wokingham and for a national charity in Reading. As an accredited member of BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) she works with individuals, couple and families to help them make sense of relationship dilemmas and challenges.

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