“Communication problems” seems to be the catch-all phrase for every relationship problem, and is often sighted as the main cause of the collapse of many relationships.
I’m the first to admit that we relationship counselors, therapists and coaches are partly responsible for this.
To better understand “communication problems” in a relationship, it’s imperative that we look at some of the definitions of communication.
1. an act or instance of transmitting
2. information transmitted or conveyed
3. a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviour .
4. personal rapport
5. a technique for expressing ideas effectively (as in speech)
In a layman’s language, communication simply means the ability to transmit information effectively and efficiently.
Put it this way, communication seems so easy, natural. But why is it a problem in many of our relationships?
We could go technical on this, but I have a much simpler explanation. Human beings are complicated.
Depending on how we were raised and how much personal inner work we’ve done, we each have what is our “normal” way of transmitting information. Much of the time, the majority of us do actually manage to connect with someone; not because we necessarily have good communication skills but because connecting with other human beings is a human need. We need it, we seek it and we do our best to make it work — not connecting effectively or efficiently, but connecting nonetheless.
During this time, many of us feel things are going well, the relationship is great, and we “love each other ” very much. Then slowly, we start having “communication problems” (yelling, banging doors, throwing stuff, silent treatment, pretending there is no problem, avoiding anything that might lead to a confrontation — and everything in between). It’s not pretty, effective or efficient.
Most relationship “experts” and “advisers” will tell you that you need to learn communication skills and be a better communicator. And so off you go learning to say “please”, “thank you”, “I love you”, “you look great”, “I appreciate you” etc. You study “listening skills” and learn how to better communicate your wants, needs, feelings, and emotions — and that sort of thing.
There is nothing wrong with trying to be a better communicator or making someone you love “feel good”, it’s all part of being in a healthy loving relationship. But as some of you reading this may be finding out, just being a better communicator is not enough. And some of you have tried everything the “experts” told you to do to improve communication in your relationship, and the other person even acknowledges that the communication between the two of you has improved, BUT… something is still missing?
That’s because saying “please”, “thank you”, “I love you”, “you look great”, “I appreciate you” and listening and affirming is not enough when you are trying to emotionally connect and build a long term emotional bond with someone.
Building a strong emotional bond goes beyond “good communication skills”. Building a strong emotional bond is about emotional vulnerability.
In other words, without emotional vulnerability, you can not truly emotionally connect with another or form a strong intimate bond with them.
RELATED: What Is Emotional Connection and Why Does It Matter?
Why is Emotional vulnerability so scary?
I like how Lisa Fritscher, a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics, describes emotional vulnerability:
“Vulnerability is a state of emotional exposure that comes with a certain degree of uncertainty. It involves a person’s willingness to accept the emotional risk that comes from being open and willing to love and be loved”.
When you’ve been hurt by a breakup, accepting emotional risk doesn’t come easy. Many of us become cautious and want to make sure that we maintain emotional power in our interactions. So we hold back and shy away from anything that will put us at the emotional risk of being emotionally exposed again.
But it is the very act of holding back and unwilling to put ourselves through emotional risk that ensures that our interactions are surface level and not emotionally connecting.
But instead of recognizing where the REAL PROBLEM is, we wrap it up in “communication problems” and continue with the same fear of emotional vulnerability that got us where we are in the first place.
We still fear to make the first contact or call first because the other person might not respond/answer, and we’ll GET HURT.
We still play silly mind games because we fear the other person will exploit our feelings for them, and we’ll GET HURT.
We do “No Contact” because, hey! we don’t want to GET HURT.
If you want to know what truly loving someone is and feel truly loved, you have to get comfortable with being vulnerable. For example:
— Reaching out knowing that you might not get a response.
— Not knowing what the other person feels about you.
— Showing you care even when the other person doesn’t return the gesture.
— Letting the other person make their own decisions and choices even when those decisions don’t favour you etc.
— But most of all, you have to get comfortable with knowing that sometimes the people we love the most don’t love us back (and letting them go).
It’s a mindset reset, and for some a completely different ways of existing and relating. But until you allow yourself to be really vulnerable, you will have a hard time emotionally connecting.
Will you get hurt? Possibly!
— Experience deep love and get hurt OR never feel really close to anyone and still get hurt?
— Take the risk and contact your ex OR not contact them at all and for the rest of your life wonder what might have been?
— Tell your ex you want them back OR pretend you have moved on and have them think you have when you haven’t?
— Learn “good communication skills” OR learn to connect more effectively and efficiently?
RELATED: How to Emotionally Connect With Your Ex (The Right Way)
So grateful for your articles. I have read a lot of relationship advice lately, but I feel yours are the only which are really going to the core of what this is all about! I hope I can take all this to my heart and change my mindset to the better.
I’m hoping with you… 🙂
Thank you for your kinds words.
It was a bad break up, I tried not talking to him for a while, but it didn’t last. He texted me a couple of times apologizing and I texted him back taking responsibility for my role in the breakup. Since then, a day has not gone by without us texting or talking on the phone. He does not however want to talk about the breakup or old relationship, and I’m struggling to figure out if he wants me back or just wants to be friends.
It’s very normal for an ex not to want to talk about the old relationship or the break-up. It’s a sign that it’s too early in the process. Given that you have not had enough emotional distance from the old relationship (see my article: Emotional Distance And How It’ll Help Get Back Your Ex), it’s actually a good thing for the long term. It’s not only healthy for the relationship but also good for your chances if both of you are ready to start fresh, not trying to recapture what’s gone.
The best you can do at this point is not pressure him but instead focus on creating that feeling that things are new and fresh.
Yangki, I absolutely love your last comment on this page. I’m in exactly the situation where I hold a lot of resentment towards my ex (who is afraid of getting close to me because of this). My question is, what if you’ve already expressed your hurt to them, and they don’t feel empathy or sorry? What if you’ve come across as needy by letting them know how they hurt you? What if you have ruined the warm feelings and good communication you have worked so hard for? Do you just have to start again?
The reason most people don’t feel empathy or sorry when you express your hurt to them is because:
1) they don’t think they hurt you (you are just being oversensitive or over dramatic)
2) they don’t believe you are fully aware/taking full responsibility for your role in what happened
3) they think you are not sincere in your apology/regret
4) they don’t believe you have changed/can change
When you “ruined the warm feelings and good communication you have worked so hard for”, you sent the message that nothing had changed. Every time this happens, it gets harder and harder to get the other person to warm up to you.
Make sure you work on what’s causing you to have to restart things over. After a certain number of tries, the other person won’t want to do it again.
Thank you for this article! This is refreshing and needed information. I appreciate the suggestion of connecting effectively and efficiently, instead of just working on better communication. I recall you also said in your eBook to pose thoughtful questions and be ready for whichever way things go. I have been doing this and we seem to finally be on the same side of many issues we previously fought over. My question is, how do I stop myself from bringing up how much he hurt me? We get along so well, until someone says something about the past. Any suggestions will be very much appreciated.
I don’t see how else you can stop yourself from bringing up how much he hurt you other than let go whatever hurt feelings you are holding on to.
Trying to talk it over with him at this stage in the process is just not wise. It will only end up in an unnecessary tension and ruin the warm-feelings and good communication that you have worked hard for. On the other hand, trying to suppress them for the sake of getting along, as you are finding out isn’t helping much. The hurt keeps coming back up.
Letting go is your only option, if you want this relationship to have a chance. There may come a time later on when you are able to talk about whatever he did without so much hurt feelings, or him getting defensive about it. If it’s not something so important that it requires a talk, you may even find that there is no need to bring it up again.
Remember (I have written this in many other articles), letting go is not the same as saying it’s okay that he hurt you or that you deserved it, letting go is accepting that at this point in time there is nothing you can do to change the past, you can only work on making a better future!
My ex says I’m a “negative person” and although she says she still loves me she does not want to come back because I drag her down emotionally. I try to be positive but when she brings up things from the past, I have to defend myself against her false accusations. Am I just supposed to take it while she says all these lies about me?
No, you’re not supposed to take anything. But you can change the way you react and respond.
I was together with my ex for 4 years and he broke up with me a few weeks ago. It’s our third breakup. I was prepared to never talk to him again until I started reading your blog. I want to contact him but I also want him to be scared of losing me again. He has also not apologized for the breakup, so I think that if contact him I’m losing my dignity, and he will not respect me. How can I make sure that this time he wants to be with me?
I understand the part about not wanting to lose your dignity, however:
1. When someone breaks up with you (3 times), there is a good reason why, at least as far as he is concerned. He doesn’t have to apologize for doing what he believes was good for him.
2. Being scared of losing you is not a healthy foundation for any relationship. In fact many of the things people do to make the other not leave are the very things that make him/her leave.
I don’t know if he will want to be with you again or if this relationship can even work, but if it does, you have to create healthy conditions for someone to want to stay. I know it sounds like it’s all your fault and that you have to do all the work, but that’s because the only person you can change or make do anything is you. You do what you have to do, and do it to your best, and let the rest take care of itself. The more you try to control him or control what happens, the more you will make things worse.
wow ! I love your blog and this particular article because it resonates with me 🙂 thank you for sharing your wisdom! More power!