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Couples Communication Problems

How poor communication happens

When you communicate poorly in a relationship, the other person usually ends up feels blamed. They may respond by defending themselves, attacking you, or shutting down.

Blaming can be overt (e.g., “you let me down”), but it can also be subtle. For example, you can say “I feel manipulated.” And while that sounds like you are talking about yourself and not them, the word “manipulated” implies that they are a manipulator. Your partner could feel judged and then instinctively go on the defense.

Sadly, blaming can happen even when you are doing your best not to blame. Couples often get caught in entrenched cycles of blaming each other where it can feel nearly impossible to get out of it. When these cycles are in place and have been operating for a while, each partner is constantly anticipating judgment and blame from the other. And then they’re reacting to that anticipation.

Much of this cycle is perpetuated by non-verbal communication. The condemning tone in the voice or the aggressive look in the eyes or the disgust that is expressed in the way the lips are down turned are all examples of this.

Learning some basic communication skills can immediately improve your relationship.

How your child-self interferes with communication in marriage and what to do about it

How your child-self interferes with communication in marriage and what your adult-self can do about it


It’s very easy to let your child-self show up in your marriage.  You can usually can tell because your child-self expects your partner to know exactly what you need and to magically meet it without you having to ask. In fact, your child-self often will often balk at the notion that they should even have to ask. It’s important to understand how your unique child-self might be showing up in your relationship.

Don’t think you’re the only one here.  We all have a child-self that reveals itself in our adult relationships.  We don’t want to get rid of our child-self. Instead, we want to bring compassion and understanding.


Here are some questions that can help increase your awareness:

→ What are the core-needs that your child-self expects, and often demands, that your partner meet?

→ How does your child-self usually feel when those needs aren’t met in just the way you believe they should be?

→ Think about a recent fight you had with your partner where your child-self was taking the lead.  How exactly did you demand from your partner that they meet your need? 

Your adult-self must learn how to first identify those core needs. Next, it’s important that your adult-self be able to advocate for those core needs in a direct and honest way with your partner.  It’s essential that you’re able to ask your partner to meet your needs in a way that doesn’t place a demand on them, but rather invites their freedom of choice.

And your adult-self must learn to deal with the reality that your needs won’t always get met by your partner.  Or, they might not get met in the exact way you are envisioning. For successful communication to happen in your marriage, your adult-self must be open to creative and flexible ways of meeting your needs.

What are the two different types of communication skills and why knowing about them will help your relationship

What are the two different types of communication skills and why knowing about them will help your relationship



When you communicate with your partner, the vast majority of what is received by them is your non-verbal communication: the way the left corner of your mouth turns down ever so slightly or the way you subtly puff up your chest or the hint of aggression in your eyes.

Whether we know it or not, all of us are highly skilled in reading the smallest nuance of non-verbal communication. And yet, this reading mostly occurs at an unconscious level. You will watch your communication dramatically improve in your relationship if you can learn to control your non-verbals.  This happens through learning the skill of monitoring and managing your nervous system responses. This means noticing when your nervous system slips into the sympathetic mode of fight/flight/freeze.

But more importantly, it means learning the skills to shift yourself to the parasympathetic state of rest/relaxation. This is done most efficiently through using your breath alongside body awareness and movement.

If you learn to manage your nervous system, then you will learn to control the non-verbals you are expressing. When you learn to intentionally change your non-verbal expressions, then you can choose to invite your partner to feel safe around you through making your body communicate warmth and kindness, such as softening the tension of your jaw and eyes. When you welcome your partner to you in this way, then they will be vastly more open to hearing the actual words that you are saying.



This brings us to verbal communication skills. Couples usually go wrong because they start here. They begin by earnestly attempting to convey their message with words. They may even be correctly using the best verbal communication techniques they know and yet the message, unfortunately, does not get transmitted.

You must start with the non-verbals. You must welcome your spouse to you through softening your face, your body, and your breath.  You must learn how to soften and open your heart at will.  Then, and only then, are you ready to use your words effectively.

If your verbal communication is to be successfully heard by your partner, you must use language that describes only your experience. As soon as you start describing something about them (how they feel or what they should do or why they did what they did), then they will start guard against you.  No one wants to be told what their experience is.  If you stay with what your own experience is, then they will be more likely to be open to you.  Successful communication only happens when people stay open to each other. As soon as one person closes, then communication shuts down and the message will not be received.

Here are some basic communication skills to learn and practice

Here are some basic communication skills to learn and practice



  • get out of your thoughts for a few moments
  • take time to connect with the felt sense of your body
  • soften your eyes
  • unclench your jaw
  • breathe from your belly to your chest
  • instruct your shoulders to drop away from your ears
  • allow your hands to rest
  • insure that your nervous system is in rest/relaxation state and not fight/flight state
  • make direct but easy eye contact with the person in front of you



  • Use descriptive words such as “who, what, when, how many, what time” when referencing something that has happened in the past:

Do say: “Yesterday, when I came home from work, I noticed that all the dishes were dirty on the sink.”

Don’t say: “You could have done the dishes when I was at work.”

  • Omit words that blame in any way when you talk what happened in the past:

Don’t say: “You didn’t do the dishes”

  • Avoid interpreting what happened into a certain meaning or story:

Don’t say: “You were trying to hurt me by not doing the dishes” 

  • Avoid using words with finality such “always” or “never”

Don’t say: “You never do the dishes”

  • Share what your own experience is by naming your feelings:

Do say: “I felt sad and hopeless when I saw that there were dishes on the sink when I came home from work”

  • Avoid using feeling words that imply blame, such as “manipulated” or “shamed” or “taken advantage of” or “betrayed”

Don’t say: “I felt betrayed by you when I came home to all those dirty dishes on the sink that you were supposed to do.”

  • Identify the main need that is connected to your feeling

Do say: “I get so sad and hopeless when I see the dishes sitting there when I come home because I really need reliability in my life and in my close relationships.”

  • Make a clear request for getting that need met, offering freedom of choice instead of a demand:

Don’t say: “Next time,  be responsible and do the dishes like I wanted, okay? Do say: “On days that I work, would you be willing to make sure the kitchen is clean and the dishes are done when I walk in the door? That would help me to feel relaxed and at ease when I come home from a long day at work.”  

  • Reflect back only what the other person’s experience is — not your thoughts and/or reactions to it:

Don’t say: “You were upset the dishes weren’t done because you have way too high of standards for cleanliness that I could never possibly live up to.”

Do say: “So, you’re telling me that you became sad and hopeless when you got home and saw that there were dirty dishes on the sink.”

→Learn More: Lashelle Lowe-Charde teaches communication skills in relationship here in Portland.


Couples Counseling can help you learn communication skills Call 503-349-2281 to make an appointment Email us