The survival of a long-term relationship depends largely on how well the couple communicates. Marriage and communication are inextricably linked. Effective communication between spouses is the key to any healthy relationship.
As time passes, it becomes all too easy to slip into unhelpful communication patterns, commit communication mistakes or to continue bad habits that began in the dating phase.
If you and your partner are struggling to connect, hitting the “7-year itch”, or otherwise finding it
difficult to communicate, read through this list of biggest communication problems together and identify any prevalent communication issues in marriage.
Covert contracts is one of the common communication mistakes
When talking of communication mistakes, I can’t think of anything more detrimental to the health of a relationship than covert contracts.
In short, a covert contract is an agreement you have with your partner that goes unspoken.
You assume they know about it, but it’s actually never been directly discussed.
A classic example is the guy who pays for dinner and expects sex, yet doesn’t directly say it.
One partner does something nice for the other, and then expects a reward for this. The reward is often specific and yet you don’t tell your partner.
When the partner doesn’t deliver their end of the secret agreement, they are punished with sulking, resentment, and withdrawal.
They “should just know,” right?
If you want your relationship to slowly be destroyed by resentment and confusion, then keep using covert contracts.
If, however, you’d prefer to have a healthy relationship, then you must let go of your attachment to the idea that your partner magically knows what you want and expect through mind-reading, and instead you must tell them everything.
This will force each of you to directly make your desires known, allowing you to provoke helpful
Make it a rule: if you don’t ask for it directly, you can’t expect to receive it.
Overinvesting vs underinvesting in relationship
In any relationship, one partner will typically “give” more than the other at any given time.
This isn’t an issue by itself, if it evens out over time. However, if one partner constantly invests more time, energy, honesty and love into a relationship than the other, the imbalance will cause huge friction and can lead to cheating, breaking up, or at the very least an unhealthy ongoing resentment.
When it comes to communicating, which one of you is more likely to:
Initiate conversations and necessary confrontations
The best answer should be something like, “Overall, we’re about equal.”
If not, to counter common communication mistakes, identify who’s investing too much and who’s investing too little. Set actions to remedy this (hint: swap roles as to who usually leads or initiates).
The overinvestor must stop and make space for the underinvestor to step up their game.
Be prepared to provoke dark fears and issues, because how much you invest is often a consequence of much deeper issues (e.g. overinvestors tend to be needy and fearful of abandonment, while uninvestors tend to fear being smothered or vulnerably intimate).
Assuming they already know
In longer-term relationships, one of the most common communication mistakes is allowing complacency to steep in intimate relationships.
Complacency sets in and many couples don’t bother saying things they used to say a lot, e.g. how you feel about each other. It can seem unnecessary or repetitive.
Unfortunately, if you aren’t constantly expressing things – even if it means repeating yourself –
based on the assumption that your partner “already knows,” they may start to believe you’ve
changed your mind.
I stopped discussing marriage with my girlfriend for a while because she stopped bringing it up. I
figured we’d agreed that it would happen someday. Little did I know, in her mind she translated this to mean I no longer wanted to, and that she shouldn’t bring it up because she was scared it would aggravate me.
Thankfully, this just meant she was surprised when I did finally propose, but it was starting to make her quite anxious and could have caused major issues down the road.
Some things cannot be said enough. How you feel about each other.
What you like and dislike. What you want to do. Your thoughts on your sex life and other intimacy issues.
Your beliefs, life stories and day-to-day thoughts. Assume they don’t already know, even if you’ve said it before or implied it with your actions.
Debating the content and ignoring the feelings
During emotional confrontations, many couples get intently focused on the details of what’s being discussed, without seeing the bigger picture. That’s one of the biggest communication mistakes spouses commit inadvertently in marriage.
If one of you is getting upset during a discussion or debate, the content no longer matters!
Your partner is not really upset about who does the dishes, or you hanging out with your friends, or even your political beliefs. Whatever you’re arguing about is not the main issue. Something else has been triggered by your disagreement, something that is usually hidden behind the scenes.
Whenever someone becomes upset during a conflict, put aside the topic (for now), and focus in on the feelings.
Something along the lines of, “I can see this discussion is getting heated. We can come back to our budgeting later, first let’s talk honestly about why this conversation about money is upsetting for us.”
Avoiding upset and hassle
After a while, you’ll feel an increasing urge to just keep the peace and avoid rocking the boat.
Couples like to slip into a comfortable, nice pattern of coexistence, and feel reluctant to bring up
What seems like a “minor” issue (and therefore not worth the hassle of bringing up) will not go away if you just ignore it. Instead, it will fester and rot, and then combine with other minor issues you’ve avoided.
They all begin sticking together in one great big poisonous ball of bitterness, resentment, and a
sense of unfairness. And because no one issue is at fault, it becomes impossible to even figure out why you’re feeling so negatively toward the person you love.
If you feel mistreated by your partner, the most likely cause is not their actions but your
unwillingness to confront small aggravations. Even if your partner was abusive, regular confrontation would either change the behaviour or end the relationship.
If you’re tolerating ongoing poor treatment, that’s on you pal.
Your partner doesn’t have to change themselves every time you’re slightly annoyed by their
behaviour, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring it up every time. You need to let the pressure out. The point here is honesty and openness.
The healthiest couples have a few minor confrontations every week, just letting the steam out so
that nothing builds up.
They will then also have the insight to know the difference between something small and something major, because they discuss everything openly.
Avoiding small hassles only guarantees you’ll create a big one. Stop being a coward and get
uncomfortable for the sake of the relationship. You don’t need to “win,” but you do need to be
Hoping love is enough
Wouldn’t it be great if loving each other was all you needed for a great relationship? Yeah. But it’s not.
Love and a relationship are two separate parts of a long-term connection.
Love will bring you together, but it’s the boundaries, agreements and rules of a relationship contract that will protect that love from going sour or getting betrayed.
I’ve seen many couples just kind of slide into a relationship. One day they’re dating, a few weeks later they’re officially exclusive, but no real discussion or agreement has been had about this transition. Even couples getting married often avoid discussing what difference this makes to how they’ll interact.
You need to figure out how you’ll manage money, what’s ok with regards to flirting and what fidelity means to each of you, how you’ll handle annoying in-laws, and every other issue that affects the relationship.
If you hope love is enough, you’ll be shocked out how dramatically things change when one person no longer wants to be in the relationship, and how ugly it can get.
A horrible break-up or divorce can be prevented by ongoing discussions about the relationship as it evolves.
Testing a potential long-term partner
Of course it’s important to carefully assess a potential long-term partner for risks and danger. Just hoping they’ll have your back and treat you well when things get rough is asking for trouble. But does this mean you should “test” them?
Many people try to simulate situations to challenge their potential partners (so they’ll show their true colours) by putting them through a secret test, often known as a “sh*t test.” This usually means setting someone up with a seemingly innocuous statement or question to see if they’ll “fail.”
These tests are usually almost impossible to “pass,” and even trying to pass them usually guarantees a failure.
Asking someone to buy you a drink (they “fail” as a pushover if they do and “stingy” if they
Indirectly and vaguely expressing interest in something to see if they get the hint and do it
for you (they fail as “inconsiderate” if they don’t and “too nice” if they do).
Asking questions like, “What do you like to do for fun?” in the hope that they’ll significantly
impress you (they fail as “boring” if they don’t impress you and “trying too hard” if they do).
This can also take the form of a hidden mental checklist of qualities in your head, like are they rich, popular, funny, sexual, tall, intelligent, etc.?
Unfortunately, none of these qualities actually tell you much about how good they’ll be as a partner for you personally.
Somebody could be your ideal match without ticking any of your boxes, while a total psychopath might tick them all.
What these tests really represent is your fear of abandonment, trying to prevent someone getting too close and making you vulnerable through intimacy.
These tests rarely give you a true picture of someone’s character, and instead allow manipulators to succeed while good, honest people fail.
Narcissists are great at passing these tests, so you’re basically asking to be hurt.
Also watch: How to Avoid Common Relationship Mistakes
If you want to see someone’s true colours, then genuinely express all concerns you have about their character.
Get it out in the open, and then reserve judgment about until after they’ve been tested by real life.
What do they do when you’re sick?
How do they react when you don’t feel like having sex?
How good are they at keeping your secrets?
What happens when you have to maintain a long-distance relationship for a while?
Rather than hoping that a few trick questions will protect you, simply hold back on diving in deep
with someone until life has put you both through some hardships and tested you in a way that can’t be faked.
I didn’t propose to my wife until after I’d seen what happened during a long-distance relationship, people trying to break us up and temptations to cheat, money conversations and financial sharing, and many other real-life tests.
She showed a consistently high level of honesty, respect and love throughout these situations. I didn’t need to guess what being her husband would be like.
Fixing or controlling partners in relationships
Unfortunately, many of us have been raised to believe that we’re responsible for other peoples’
emotions. One of the worst communication mistakes is the urge to control a partner in relationships.
When we get into relationships, we tend to fall into a “fixer” role, which is merely controlling disguised as caring.
From the outside, it appears that we’re trying to reduce the suffering of our partner by helping them, consoling them during difficult emotions, and advising them on the best
way to do things.
The dark truth is that underneath all this “caring” we’re desperately trying to control our partner.
We help them to make sure they need us.
We console them emotionally, so they stop feeling something that makes us uncomfortable. We give them advice to make them live in a way we think is “right.”This “support” disables the other person.
Sure, we do care about their wellbeing, but underneath that is a greater priority: our own comfort.
Your partner can experience painful emotions without you having to fix them. Emotions like sadness, frustration, confusion and anger can all be helpful catalysts for growth and healing. If you’re always trying to “cheer them up,” you may simply be depriving them of healthy processing and growth.
Your partner can struggle with a task without your help. If they haven’t asked you to step in, then
leave them to it. Let them have the glory of figuring it out for themselves rather than stealing from them by “helping.”
Even if they ask for help, try to help them to do it by themselves rather than you doing it for them.
Your partner’s happiness is their responsibility, not yours.
You’ve got your own to worry about. It’s not your job to advise them on how to live. Sure, you can give feedback and counsel, but always try to ask them, “What do you think is the right thing to do?” and let them make mistakes if they must.
A final word on communication mistakes
Underlying these issues is a common theme: honesty, courage and respect. As one of the communication mistakes, couples often fail to recognize that.
Honesty means speaking your mind, showing your true intentions, and letting them judge you for who you really are. Courage means facing discomfort and risk to do the right thing rather than the easy thing.
And respect means setting your own boundaries while also taking care not to cross theirs.
Relationships don’t manage themselves.
The long it goes on, the more you’ll need discussions, boundaries, confrontations and agreements. These discussions will be uncomfortable, but not as bad as breaking up with someone who was actually great for you.
Avoid these discussions at your peril, and make room for more communication mistakes in your relationships!
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Dan Munro is a Couples Coach and bestselling author of Nothing to Lose. As a recovering Mr Nice Guy, Dan specializes in helping couples that suffer from leadership and sexual polarity issues caused by people-pleasing behaviour and Nice Guy Syndrome - men who struggle with masculinity, assertiveness and power - by showing them how to communicate more honestly while increasing the sexual polarity between masculine and feminine.
Dan is also the creator of the BROJO international self-development community. Dan is currently engaged to the woman of his dreams whom he met and courted by simply being honest and expressing himself boldly. He encourages others to do the same.