What to Know About Poor Communication in a Relationship

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 25, 2022

Have you ever found yourself arguing with your partner while not knowing exactly what the fight was about? There's a good chance that both of you were having trouble understanding each other. 

Whether one of you was blaming the other for the problem or acting passive-aggressive, these signs of poor communication need to be repaired if you want your relationship to last. Learn more about how to relate to your partner in a way that serves you both.

Identify Common Communication Problems in a Relationship

Often, it’s the little things in relationships that make people happy. Think about the last laugh you shared with your significant other, or recall a film you enjoyed together. Small moments can drag your relationship down too. Consider the following lack of communication examples. Do any of them sound familiar?

Being passive-aggressive.Passive-aggressive behavior is irritating, but it’s usually a habit that you can break. You might pout, act irritable, or make your partner play guessing games about what they did when you’re mad at them. You might not know you’re doing this if it’s the usual communication style of your family of origin. 

If you have trouble being direct with your partner, start small. The next time your partner upsets you, take a deep breath and tell them that what they just did wasn’t OK with you. You might be surprised at your partner’s willingness to listen.

Making assumptions. Are you and your partner far apart in age, or did you grow up speaking different languages? Perhaps one of you is very blunt in communication, while the other hints at what they need. Maybe you’re struggling with your mental health while your partner is thriving. 

All of these situations can create hurt feelings when you fail to discuss your differences and resort to making unfair assumptions about the other person. The next time you feel anger at your partner’s odd or hurtful actions, take the time to ask questions instead of jumping to a conclusion.

Not paying attention. There are few situations more upsetting than when you’re speaking to someone who seems like they're mentally elsewhere. Maybe they're swamped at work, busy with a mental to-do list, or simply distracted. Tell your partner how much their preoccupation with other things hurts your feelings — and do your best to be equally present in your conversations with them. 

If either of you has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), symptoms like getting distracted, focusing on the loudest or shiniest object in the room, or simply forgetting what you said might be frustrating to you both. 

Consider learning more about neurodiversity in relationships and how it affects communication styles. Your autistic partner, for example, may not be making eye contact, but they might be intently listening and processing your feelings. In contrast, if you're the neurodiverse partner, you might struggle with your neurotypical partner’s unspoken expectations. You might want to find a counselor who can help you navigate these issues that affect communication, along with common mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. 

Blaming. It’s easy to blame your partner for everything that happens in a relationship — but you probably understand that most communication problems involve both of you. When you’re talking to your partner about a problem, resist the urge to explain to them how wrong they were or how they could have done everything better. Instead, use “I” statements to convey to your partner how you felt when they behaved in a certain way.

Learn How to Fix Communication in a Relationship

While it’s actually normal to argue with your partner, it’s not healthy to argue for hours, insult each other, or give each other the silent treatment. It’s also not good for your relationship if you’re constantly having the same argument or stepping into the same miscommunication patterns with your partner. Think about employing the following techniques to repair broken communication in relationships:

Learn your fighting style. Do you yell your feelings? Do you keep a mental list of your partner’s misdeeds to use as ammunition later? Maybe you resort to passive-aggressive declarations that you’re “fine” when, in reality, you’re seething inside. Be honest about your communication weaknesses. The more you know about yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses, the healthier your communication will become.

Identify your triggers. Is there a topic that always makes your partner angry? Maybe the way you respond to your partner’s emotions keeps sparking an argument. Take some time with your partner — when you’re calm and not in the midst of a fight — to write down your emotional triggers and discuss how you might handle them when they arise again.

Consider couples therapy. You don’t need to wait until your relationship breaks down to consider getting professional help for your communication problems. Think about finding a licensed therapist to help you work out recurring conflicts in your relationship. Topics you cover might include money, parenting, or your social life.

Understand When the Relationship Isn’t Working

Many relationships don’t end in a dramatic fashion. Instead, they fizzle out over months or years. You might communicate poorly with your partner because one or both of you need to work on your relational skills — or your constant bickering and misunderstandings could be a sign that you and your partner truly aren’t suited for each other. Consider the following signs of a relationship that you might want to reconsider:

  • You uncovered several red flags that you can’t ignore, like lying, being unfaithful, or using emotional abuse as an argument tactic.
  • You have no shared interests, and you don't care about your partner’s hobbies.
  • You realize that you simply aren't compatible. Maybe your relationship was built on a desire not to be alone, and you don't have genuine feelings for each other.
  • You’ve stopped trying to communicate altogether, and even reading about how to communicate in a relationship seems like a waste of time.

Fixing poor communication in a relationship won’t be easy. But if both you and your partner make a commitment to learning how to communicate more effectively and honestly, your relationship will improve over time.

Show Sources

American Psychological Association: “Happy couples: How to keep your relationships healthy.”
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “ADHD Complicates Romance.”
The Couples Center: “How to Stop the Cycle of Fighting in a Relationship.”
GoodTherapy: “Communication Problems.”
HelpGuide: “Adult Autism and Relationships.”
love is respect: “How Can I Communicate Better?”
Mayo Clinic: “What is passive-aggressive behavior? What are some of the signs?”
PsychAlive: “Why the Spark Fades in a Relationship.”

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