How to deal with miscommunication in a relationship
Lack of Communication: 17 Tips for CouplesLack of Communication: 17 Tips for Couples
Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — By Cindy Lamothe on October 29, 2019
If you’re in a relationship, chances are you’ve had your fair share of tense moments. It’s OK to have arguments — clashing is a completely normal part of being a couple.
But the key to any lasting relationship is to work toward building a stronger, more intimate bond.
“Communication is important because it fosters trust and connection,” explains Shelley Sommerfeldt, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships. “In order to have an open, honest, and vulnerable relationship with our partner, we must be able to freely communicate in a healthy manner.”
Whether you’re just starting out as a couple or have been together for years, these strategies can help you both improve your communication skills.
Before you can get to work on improving your communication skills, it’s important to first identify the areas that need some work.
Here are some signs to look for.
Passive aggressive behavior
Passive aggression is a way of expressing hidden anger instead of addressing conflict head-on.
This might look like:
- cracking jokes about your partner always being late
- punishing them for being late by giving the silent treatment
- making digs about their decisions
All of these behaviors allow you to express your frustration without actually having to talk about it. It might feel satisfying in the moment, but it won’t serve you any favors in the long run.
Brushing things under the rug
Simply avoiding conflicts won’t help, either. Ignoring issues just gives them the space and time to build up into something larger down the road.
Using aggressive speech
Becoming openly defensive or hostile when talking to your partner is a sign you’ve fallen into a toxic communication pattern.
Aggressive speech can involve:
- raising your voice
- blaming or criticizing
- controlling or dominating the conversation
Recognize any of the above signs in your relationship? These tips can help you foster more open and honest communication.
Process your feelings first
Before talking with your partner about an issue that’s upsetting for you, be sure to process your own feelings on the subject and calm yourself first, says Sommerfeldt.
“If we go into a conversation feeling very angry, upset or too emotional, then the communication tends to become too heated and difficult to find resolution,” says Sommerfeldt.
Try taking a quick walk or listening to relaxing music before talking to your partner. That way you’ll be more in control of your emotions and be able to communicate well.
Thinking about timing
Choosing the right time to talk with your partner can make all the difference, Sommerfeldt notes.
If something’s weighing on your mind, give your partner a heads up that you’d like to sit down and talk.
“If your partner knows that you’d like to speak with them, this can help de-escalate the situation as well because they are less likely to feel ambushed or blindsided with a heated debate,” Sommerfeldt says.
Start with ‘I’ statements and feelings
How we speak to our partner can make all the difference. Often, couples begin a conversation by pointing the finger at the other person and placing blame, says Sommerfeldt.
She recommends beginning conversations with how you are feeling. You can ensure you do this by using statements that start with “I.”
For example, instead of calling out your partner for focusing too much on work, you could say, “I feel hurt when you always focus on work.” This is less accusatory than saying, “You’re always focusing on work.”
Focus on being both being heard and listening
“Many couples enter conversations as though they are debates or arguments that they must win,” says Sommerfeldt.
While you may not agree with your partner’s point of view, it’s important to actually listen to why they feel the way they do. They should do the same for you.
When having a discussion, don’t make it a competition to see who wins. Instead, actively listen and try to understand their point of view.
Make compromising and resolution the goal
“Remember that the focus of communication with your partner is coming to an understanding,” Sommerfeldt explains.
Whether you’re bringing up hurt feelings or addressing conflicting ideas about future plans, both of you should leave a conversation feeling as though there’s some kind of resolution.
More often than not, that resolution relies on some level of compromise, whether it’s about the division of chores or making financial decisions.
“This helps people forgive and move forward,” she adds. “It can also bring on feelings of strength and connection between partners.”
Set clear boundaries
Placing firm boundaries can also help avoid any miscommunication, advises Cali Estes, PhD.
For example, if finances are a sore spot, consider coming up with some boundaries. Maybe you decide that any purchase over $500 must be discussed and approved by both parties before pulling the trigger.
Leave notes for your partner
It might seem minor, but leaving a note to let your partner know what you’re doing can be extremely helpful, says Estes. In addition to providing practical information, it shows your partner that you’re thinking of them and being considerate of their potential worries about where you are.
If you know you’ll be meeting up with a friend after getting groceries, leave a quick note letting your partner know.
Regularly check-in throughout the day
Similarly, Estes recommends doing regular check-ins in the morning, around lunchtime, and in the evening.
“This would include taking what I call your mood temperature,” Estes says. “If you’re in a bad mood, you want your partner to know before you explode.” Try using a scale of 1 to 10 to let your partner know how your day is going.
When it comes to communication, there are things you’ll want to avoid whenever possible.
The silent treatment
“People often adopt the silent treatment thinking it’s setting boundaries,” says licensed therapist, Jor-El Caraballo, “but boundaries work best when communicated explicitly with a partner, otherwise they may not realize they’ve crossed one. ”
It’s better to be assertive about a boundary, Caraballo adds, than to assume that a partner knows why you’re hurt and shut them out, which can often cause more damage to a relationship.
Bringing up past mistakes
It’s easy to fall into the habit of rehashing the past during a heated moment. Regularly dredging up your partner’s mistakes can be counterproductive and just make them more defensive.
Yelling or screaming
Raising your voice during an argument or resorting to yelling and screaming is an ineffective way to process your anger.
In the long term, it can cause arguments to become more intense and erode your partner’s self-esteem.
Stonewalling or walking away mid-argument is a way of disengaging from your partner and leaving conflict unresolved.
It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and need a timeout. Be sure to explain that you need to take a moment away from the conversation.
Sarcasm and put-downs
Be aware of inappropriate humor when you’re in the midst of arguing. If you want to break the ice, it’s better to make a harmless joke about yourself than say something negative about them.
Disrespectful nonverbal behavior
Body language can communicate volumes. Checking your phone instead of facing them and making eye contact, for example, can make the other person feel disrespected.
Effective communication is the foundation of a successful relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
If you’re having a hard time working through communications in your relationship, consider seeing a therapist, either on your own or with your partner, to work through any underlying issues and develop some new tools.
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.
Last medically reviewed on October 29, 2019
How we reviewed this article:
Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
- Caraballo J. (2019). Personal interview.
- Chrzasz-Reedy A. (n.d.). Healthy relationships through communication.
- Church C. (n.d.). This communication pattern kills relationships.
- Estes C. (2019). Personal interview.
- How can we communicate better? (n.d.).
- Peterson NB. (2013). Practice communication skills to grow relationships: Advice from a Research and Extension specialist.
- Sommerfeldt S. (2019). Personal interview.
Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
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Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — By Cindy Lamothe on October 29, 2019
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How to Avoid Miscommunication in a Relationship
How to Avoid Miscommunication in a Relationship
As a couples counselor and relationship coach, I often talk to couples about miscommunication in relationships. Can you recall the last time you felt confused in your relationship because you couldn’t find an explanation for the behavior of your partner? The last time you felt worried that things might not be going well because something happened that seemed like a bad sign?
Miscommunication in relationships is more common than you might think, and commonly addressed in relationship coaching for couples. When there isn’t an open and honest conversation around what you’re feeling, expecting, or needing from your partner, miscommunication is bound to happen.
Maybe you’ve even found yourself wrestling with some thoughts like these:
If she hasn’t returned my text message in the past three hours, she must be upset with me.
If he isn’t very talkative during dinner, he must be wondering if we should keep seeing each other.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been intimate. He must not find me attractive anymore. Or maybe he’s seeing someone else?
In each of these scenarios, there is one piece of information that is clearly missing – the thoughts of our partners. Our own effort to fill in those gaps with what we assume they must be thinking is indicative of something therapists sometimes refer to as mind reading. And while that’s technically a superpower, it can be a major hindrance to our relationships, leading to severe miscommunication.
Communication is Key in a Relationship
…[M]iscommunication in relationships comes from an innate tendency we have as people to fill in the gaps around things we don’t fully understand.
In my experience as a marriage counselor, I would argue that some level of mind reading happens in every relationship. At its most basic level, it is simply the belief that we know what another person must be thinking or feeling at a given moment. This miscommunication in relationships comes from an innate tendency we have as people to fill in the gaps around things we don’t fully understand.
Unfortunately, most of us have a bent toward filling in those gaps with the worst-case scenarios. We assume the worst so that we’re surprised when that’s not the case, rather than assuming the best and being disappointed when reality doesn’t measure up.
While the impulse to do this is perfectly normal, the consequences of it can be incredibly harmful to our relationships. We end up in fights over problems that don’t exist. We attack the character of the person we love most because we misinterpreted an event. We assume that the worst-case scenario simply has to be true so that we can guard against being hurt.
The impacts of these beliefs in our relationships are real because something is real if it is real in its consequences. It doesn’t ultimately matter if they are actually true or not. If we believe that our partner meant to hurt us when they truly didn’t, we will still treat them like they did. The impact on the relationship is real.
This is where communication is key in a relationship: having healthy communication that connects you to your partner vs. assuming you already know what they are thinking.
Assume the Best of Your Partner
What if we didn’t fill in the gaps with the worst possible version of events? What if we made the intentional choice to assume the best about a situation when the information was missing? What if we went a step further and actually asked our partners to tell us what they mean rather than trying to read their minds?
Here are three guidelines that I teach my online relationship coaching clients that can help you and your partner do this on a routine basis.
Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.
Couples Counseling Communication Tips to Avoid Miscommunication in a Relationship
#1 Assume the best about what your partner means in a given interaction.
We are all guilty of running the instant replay in our heads after a conversation with our partner. Questions flood our minds as we reflect on what was said. What did he mean when he said this? Was she implying that I was responsible for all of this?
This tendency to overanalyze leads us to walk away from interactions and only later decide that something happened that we should be upset by. When we find ourselves reflecting on a conversation and this happens, instead of believing that our partner’s comments or actions were meant to hurt us, we can choose instead to assume that they care about us and did not mean to cause any harm.
#2 If you are hurt by an interaction, ask your partner (directly) to clarify what they meant.
We often want our partners to fully understand us, but it takes more effort on our part to invest the time needed to make sure we fully understand them. When we find ourselves hurt, we can allow the hurt to serve as an invitation to deeper understanding. We can reach for our partners and ask if they meant to be hurtful in what they did. This gives our partners the chance to tell us what they were thinking or feeling when something happened, providing additional clarity as we determine whether or not the injury was intentional, accidental, or simply the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding.
#3 Ask yourself if there might be other explanations for something your partner did that might give them the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel animosity toward them. Oftentimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel hangry. Could there be a more benevolent explanation for the interaction that has upset us?
None of this is a denial of our right to tell someone that something they did hurt us; this is simply an invitation to not assume that our partner was being malicious toward us when it happened. Sometimes a text gets missed because it was opened in a meeting and they haven’t had a chance to respond – it doesn’t have to mean we’re being ignored on purpose.
How to Solve Miscommunication in a Relationship: Create Space for Intentional Communication
The space we create for our partners to share their intentions with us is critically important. When we create internal narratives around what another person must have meant without actually asking them to share their intentions or perspective with us, we run the risk of expending valuable emotional energy being upset with them over something that is largely the creation of our own imagination.
We would do well to leave the power of mind-reading on the shelf and instead choose to utilize one of the simplest but hardest to execute powers in our relationships – open and honest communication.
P.S. If you found this article helpful and you’re looking for more resources on better communication, you may want to check out Three Practical Tips for Productive Communication (when you are both stressed) and What Are You Communicating Non-verbally? Then, take our How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz for a deeper insight into your relationship communication strengths and growth opportunities.
Ben J., M.S., LMFT, MFTC
Meet Ben: a couples counselor, family counselor, premarital counselor, individual therapist, and life coach who helps couples and individuals activate their inner strengths in pursuit of their goals and passions. His collaborative, friendly style makes him easy to talk to. He can help you get unstuck, achieve new understanding, and create deeper connections.
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Six tricks to get rid of misunderstandings in relationships | Psychology | HEALTH
At the same time, there are several psychological tricks that men and women can use to minimize the risk of being misunderstood. The fact is that there are words or even phrases that “fall on the ear” incorrectly, and the interlocutor often unconsciously alters the meaning of what he heard.
Director of the Vladimir dating agency "Me and You", family psychologist, consultant on interpersonal relations Elena Kuznetsova named several rules that partners should follow in a conversation in order to avoid mutual misunderstanding.
1. Do not use the “not” particle
Scientists have long proved that our interlocutor, although he hears this particle with his ear, nevertheless subconsciously rejects it. Therefore, your phrase: “I don’t want you to raise your voice at me” is very likely to remain in the mind of your partner not as a protest, but as an approval. To avoid this, it is worth expressing your request in a different way: "I would like you to always talk to me calmly."
2. Use "we" or "let's" more often
When voicing your desire or your plans to your partner, do not start the phrase with "I". This sounds too selfish and too harsh for a woman who should not be the leader in a relationship, but the follower. Don't say, "I told my friend we'd be visiting her on Friday night." By submitting news in this form, you put the man before the fact, and at the same time automatically assign him a secondary role in the relationship.
It would be more correct to report a planned visit to a friend as follows: “Christina invited us to visit on Friday evening. Let's go. We haven’t seen each other for a long time, and I miss her.” Thus, formally, you shifted the final decision to your partner, but gradually you already told him what the “correct” answer should be.
Another example. Don't say, "I want to go on vacation," say, "Let's go on vacation." It is better if, before voicing a specific proposal, you competently prepare your partner for it. For example, start a conversation with the fact that there are last-minute trips to Greece. “We have been going there for a long time. Maybe let's go?" Ask for participation and create a situation where both of you are involved in the project. That is, it was not you who decided everything for yourself and for your man. No. You just saw the information and convey it to your partner.
3. Use "and" instead of "but", use the subjunctive
"And" indicates partnership, "but" indicates opposition. The particle "by", used in the subjunctive mood, gives softness to the whole phrase.
That is, the statement “I heard you, but I want you to hear me too” is perceived by the interlocutor not as constructive, but as a “collision”. She sounds aggressive. In this case, you should say something like this: "I try to hear you, and I would like you to hear me too. "
4. Don't spoil compliments with remarks
It's ugly and offensive when you praise your partner, but immediately spoil the compliment by remembering some kind of oversight. For example: "Thanks for fixing the kitchen faucet - didn't screw up like last time." The second part of the phrase, obviously, was superfluous. It was enough to say: “I am so grateful to you for fixing the faucet and it is no longer leaking.”
If you added something nasty to a compliment, you not only offended and humiliated your partner, but also demonstrated your own stupidity, bad manners, lack of culture, or even a sense of superiority. All this is unlikely to benefit the relationship.
5. Call your partner affectionately by name
If you are on the verge of a quarrel, then before calling your partner to talk, do not aggravate the situation, but, on the contrary, soften it. Instead of strict: “Sergey, we need to talk,” you should address your partner like this: “Seryozha! Let's talk. I think we both need it."
6. Do not raise your voice
Always try to talk to each other without raising your voice. If you're swearing, you can tighten your tone, but don't yell. If you feel that you are about to lose control and start yelling at your partner, it’s better not to say anything at all. Breathe. You can’t sort things out in an unstable emotional state, since the dependence here is simple: the louder you shout at your interlocutor, the worse they hear you and understand you less.
Where does misunderstanding in a relationship come from: causes .ru
The most popular reason for parting, as we know from celebrity news, is "irreconcilable differences." Offhand, what is illogical here? Of course, mismatches are to blame for everything: she is a careless art nature, he is a real control freak; he brings his mother out weekly, and she deliberately pushes relatives out of her life; she loves walking in the hills, he hates nature; he's outgoing, and she hates parties. Not surprisingly, although they were flammably in love, they ended up having to break up.
This explanation is based on a non-obvious, but very common theory: the reason for the appearance of a couple lies in the similarity of characters, and if people get divorced, then they are clearly prevented by the difference. The international credulity of this theory is confirmed by the algorithms of dating sites: by throwing you a photo for a swipe left or right, the application determines the most suitable candidates based on information from your account. The selection engine analyzes the database to match you with the "right" person who shares most of your tastes, interests, and views. According to the optimization course, the smaller the difference, the more likely the relationship will develop.
In fact, such a weighty aspect as the coincidence of interests does not guarantee a happy life together. Initially relying only on compatibility, you will inevitably step on the tail of your perfect “match”, discovering one day that, although you are phenomenally similar in love for ballet and salted butter, you are killed by his passion for Monetochka songs and throwing dirty socks. You suddenly realize that it is difficult to understand, forgive, and even more so to live with it. It doesn't matter what the last straw is, but as your matches/mismatches inevitably escalate, you'll find that disagreements annoy you much more. And at this stage, there is nothing more important than the desire to deal with the discrepancy that has arisen - without casualties and destruction.
“People in love can disagree with each other for a thousand different reasons—from the optimal frequency of sex to the pattern of the bathroom curtains—and still stay together, while the other couple agrees on just about everything but is unwilling to compromise on minimal mismatches,” writes New York-based sexologist Sarah Shapiro. In an article for The Cut, the doctor confirms a fundamental truth that we usually ignore to our own detriment: it's not about differences. Couples break up because one of the partners is tired of not being heard.
What matters for happiness in your personal life is not whether you have differences, but how you deal with them. As Teal Swan, a mentor, lecturer, and savvy, explains the many facets of being human on tealswan.com and on her own YouTube channel, “Stop trying to love and start trying to understand.”
"I'm getting used to the mismatch," the heroine of the Soviet series sang, and, as is known from the plot, there is not an ounce of use in this hint. “The notorious inconsistencies should not be tolerated, they should be discussed,” Sarah Shapiro explains. - A sincerely loving partner may not share your point of view, but seeks to understand why you think so and not otherwise, because he respects your right to a different opinion and is ready to listen to it - with patience and benevolence. He will not avoid uncomfortable topics, get offended or annoyed, stating that you deliberately piss him off, and you are always unhappy, and he already had a hard day.
In general, it's time to publicly announce the rehabilitation of incompatibility. A loving person that everyone desperately needs is not an aesthetically literate idol on a white horse who shares all your tastes and interests, but an open and kind person who is ready to listen and understand without aggression, sarcasm, denial and going on the defensive.