Communication Problem?

Are you concerned that you may have a communication problem?

What does that mean anyway? As you probably are aware, how you communicate is not just what comes out of your mouth, but everything you convey mentally, emotionally and physically when you exchange communication with someone. When are you most aware of your communication? When do you think you should be most ware of how you are communicating with another person?

Think about how others may interpret your communication when you’re least aware of it. Imagine a typical experience with a cashier at a store that you frequent. Maybe on a recent visit they may have thought that you were grumpy and unpersonable when you didn’t make eye contact or answered them shortly during the checkout transaction. But in reality you were just preoccupied with the work-related email you just read on your phone before you came into the store to pick up a few items for home. Most likely, you weren’t even aware of your communication with the cashier. It’s common to be preoccupied or distracted by our thoughts during common tasks. No big deal….right? I imagine this happens all the time in public. But it is a big deal if it’s happening in your relationships with those you deeply care about. With our loved ones, communication is one of the most important things that we should strive to maintain and possibly improve.

To help make this more clear, take a look at the types of communication as described from Communication Theory.

  • Symbolic communication- communication through touch
  • Kinesthetic communication- communication through body motion
  • Metacommunications- typically nonverbal messages that qualify or clarify other communication
  • Paralinguistic communication- communication through tone, pace and inflexion
  • Proxemics- interpersonal spatial relations
  • Streptic communication- communication through sounds, like whistles and claps
  • Digital (or verbal) communication- spoken communication perceived and interpreted based on meaning.

In reading through the above types of communication, maybe you’ve thought of ways that you use these in your communication with your loved ones. Do you use all of them regularly, or do you just use a few of them? Think about how you may be strong at using one or a few of them in a positive way. Maybe there are other types of communication that you’d also like to use more often to get positive results with your loved ones.

So let’s go back to the original question, “Do you have a communication problem?” Think about the results you get from communication and how often you initiate communicating with your loved ones with a positive intention. A few examples of “positive intention” might be:

  • complementing them
  • having a genuine interest in their daily activities
  • helping them through a difficult situation
  • sharing something personal with them
  • resolving a conflict with them

A few examples of “negative intention” might be:

  • criticizing them
  • trying to make them feel guilty for something they did
  • using them as a means of venting unrelated frustrations
  • picking a fight with them
  • engaging in passive aggressive behavior
  • trying to “win” an argument

Only you know your true intentions. So if you are honest with yourself, I imagine you will be able to identify whether your intentions or either positive or negative.

To help you determine whether our not you may have a communication problem, use the following elements to identify common aspects of your communication.

Elements of Positive and Effective Communication:

___I am fully aware of all that I am communicating.

___I use digital (verbal) communication as well as 3 or more other types of communication with positive intentions.

___I receive kind and open responses from my loved ones.

___I initiate communication with my loved ones when messages are incongruent.


Elements of a Communication Problem:

___I am rarely aware of all that I am communicating (ex: I initiate communication impulsively and react before I have taken a moment to think).

___I use digital (verbal) communication as well as other types of communication with negative intentions.

___My loved ones often respond defensively and angrily toward me.

___I do not initiate communication with my loved ones when I feel unheard by them or bothered by their messages.


If you have all of the elements of positive or effective communication…..Great! Keep up the good work! Maybe you’re recognizing that you have more elements of a communication problem than you ever thought. I encourage you to enlist some help and also request that your loved ones help and support your desire to improve. If you fall somewhere in the middle, I encourage you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, enlist help and also ask your loved ones for their support. Improving communication is foundational to positive, healthy relationships, and usually the first place to start with strengthening or repairing damaged relationships.




Step Out of Your Relationship Comfort Zone

  • Have you been feeling like the things that bother you about your love/marital relationship are beginning to overpower what are (or once were) strong about your relationship?
  • Do you find yourself frequently rolling your eyes in annoyance or disapproval at something your partner says or does?
  • Does one negative interaction with your partner cause you to avoid him/her for the rest of the day?
  • Are you frequently wishing he/she could be something different than what they are in a lot of areas?
  • Has the quality and quantity of one on one time that you spend together become progressively less (and you’ve both been okay with it, or have not brought attention to it)?

If you’ve silently answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you could be on the way (if not already there) to a major distancing in your relationship. That doesn’t mean the two of you are doomed for disaster, or that your relationship likely won’t last. It just means that, as a couple, you may be heading for some tough times…times that could be weeks, months, or even years without addressing exactly what things have been contributing to the distance. Addressing this likely requires stepping out of your relationship comfort zone.

Couples that have become more distant with one another (lacking frequent and/or quality connection with one another mentally, emotionally, and/or physically), have likely slipped into an ineffective comfort zone in their relationship where they meet most or all of their daily necessities (cooking, cleaning, maintaining finances, parenting), but have neglected one or many couple necessities.

When couples become more distant, in most cases, they are at risk. They become at risk for a variety of potential situations to happen: they may grow apart, either partner may seek (either intentionally or accidentally) relational needs through infidelity/affairs, they may become resentful, they may become more “me” focused vs. “us” focus… name a few. If this relationship is a long term or lifelong commitment, it’s going to take some stepping out of your relationship comfort zone to reconnect and become close again.

So what can you do?

First, be fully honest with yourself and reflect. Are you frequently pointing the finger at what YOU think are his/her faults? It takes two, and unless you’ve communicated to your partner about how you feel and have suggested some action by him/her, your finger pointing is likely not fair. If you have a complaint, it needs to be brought to the table in a non accusatory, sensitive manner. In other words, how can YOU help him/her to change or improve in the ways that will help you and the relationship?

Second, being fully honest with yourself, examine the ways in which you are responsible for the distance….possibly avoidance of the issues, negative responses, insensitive verbal tone and body language….what have you done/not done that also has not helped to stay connected?

Thirdly, (and the stepping out of your relationship comfort zone part) you both need to do something different than what you have been doing. When something about your relationship bothers you, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible. If there is something that your partner does/does not do that bothers you, it is your responsibility to either bring it to their attention with kindness, sensitivity and respect, or either accept that it is something that you can live with without resenting him/her. Reflect on the ways that you negatively respond to issues between you and your partner (eye rolling, silence, rude tone, passive aggressiveness, etc.) and work on eliminating those responses or replacing them with something that supports the relationship.

Last thought. If stepping out of your relationship comfort zone is so awkward and foreign to you that every attempt eventually brings you right back to the ineffective comfort zone, then you will likely need to enlist some help. Additionally, if the ineffective comfort zone is so deeply embedded in your relationship that you have difficulty even considering a different way of engaging with one another, then you definitely need the help of a third party.

In some cases, it is quite possible, that the ineffective comfort zones have clearly been the result of extremely stressful and demanding situations (long term illness, severe financial issues, new baby and/or an expanding family, recent trauma, etc.). Situations such as these, don’t excuse distance between partners that may have been onset as a result. But it may be easier to accept the occurrence of something that was out of your control and, therefore, be much more patient and cooperative as it may be a slower process to reconnecting mentally, physically, and emotionally as a couple.