4 Couples Communication Problems To Avoid

March 16,2012

Learning how to communicate is one of the most difficult tasks a couple is faced with. You need communication to get through every day life, express your feelings for each other, and work through problems. While all relationships are unique, many couples run into the same sticky areas. Here are some of the most common issues, along with ideas for how to start addressing them on your own:

Couples Communication Problems | Vanessa Marin Sex Therapy

1. You want your partner to read your mind and know what is going on for you. You interpret it as a sign that they don’t love you when they don’t understand what you are feeling.

As nice as it would be if our partners were always able to perfectly attune to us, it’s simply not possible. No one can be as familiar with our own experience as we are. As adults, it is our responsibility to communicate our feelings and experiences with our partners. This can be an incredibly difficult and overwhelming task to take on, and I will devote a separate posting to this exact subject.

If you notice yourself wanting your partner to read your mind, you may want to take some time to yourself to try to understand why you want this. Does it feel scary to be direct about your feelings? Does it make you feel loved and cared for when someone can guess what you are going through? Do you feel the pull to “test” your partner?

You can also check out if you would feel comfortable telling your partner that this is something you notice. If both of you are aware that it is a pattern that happens, you may be better prepared to address it together when it comes up.

2. Your partner says you don’t listen.

Try to make space for successful communication. If there is a big topic on the table, clear some time in your schedules, put away distractions, and try to focus on just each other when you are talking. Body language is important here too. Do you notice that you turn your body away from your partner? Are your arms or legs crossed protectively? Can you make eye contact with your partner?

You may want to try experimenting with paraphrasing what your partner says, to make sure you are understanding what they are saying. You can also give them an opportunity to edit your paraphrasing. This exercise can feel awkward at first, but can go a long way towards making sure you are actually hearing each other. For example, you might say something like, “What I hear is that you wish I would take more initiative in doing chores around the house. You don’t want to have to ask me to do things. Is that an accurate way to put it?” By checking in with your partner in this way, you let them know how you have taken in their statement, and give them the opportunity to clarify themselves if they feel you did not quite understand exactly what they meant. Paraphrasing doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with your partner; it just means you are trying to understand what they are trying to communicate.

3. You haven’t communicated about how you communicate. You’re not aware of the patterns you tend to get into as a couple.

It can be extremely beneficial to talk about communication at a time when you are both calm and there aren’t any big issues on the table. You can share with your partner what you think your strengths and weaknesses as a communicator are. You can talk about times when it gets tricky for you to communicate, for example, “When I am in bed, I am usually too tired to try to talk.”

Try stepping back and thinking of your relationship as an entity on its own. Examine how your strengths and weaknesses might interact with each other. You might come up with a hypothesis like, “There are times where it seems like you don’t think I’m listening, so you start to raise your voice in an attempt to be heard. When I hear you get louder, I get scared and clam up. I think my reaction makes you feel even less listened to.”

You could also talk about ground rules you might want to set for yourselves, for example, no name-calling, or deciding to call a “time-out” for five minutes in the middle of a heated argument.

4. You think the mistakes that you make are signs that you’re a failure.

Let’s face it, we all make mistakes with communication, especially with our loved ones. Communication is tough. But the times where you find yourself not operating to your best can be tremendous sources of learning and growth.

Try to take some time to think about the last time you felt like you didn’t do a very good job communicating. What happened? What did you do or say? What do you wish you had done or said? What did you feel in the moment? Why do you think it got tricky during that particular instance? Have you had other similar moments? You may uncover some new thoughts about yourself or your relationship. Individual or couples counseling can help you further explore this new information.


Since communication is such an enormous topic, you may want to sit with a couples counselor to get an outsider’s perspective and create a safe place to talk about such a sensitive issue. Call (415) 658-5738 or visit my Appointments page to set up a consultation.



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I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!