(1) We don't Communicate anymore!
This is without doubt the most common complaint heard by family and
This page provides information about relationship issues to help couples
think about their relationship, to share their thoughts and to explore together
ways of making their relationship happier and more fulfilling.
It does not attempt to give answers, because what works well for one couple
may not work well for another. Instead, issues which trouble most couples at
some stage in their relationship are described and possible ways of tackling
these issues are suggested.
(2) Why is communication so important in relationships?
Relationships have many different aspects. For example;
- companionship - sharing interests and concerns
- intimacy - being able to be close to each other, to comfort and be
comforted, and to be open and honest with each other
- organising a shared home and a shared life and making decisions about
issues such as money
- working together as parents in caring for children
Communication is not just important, it is essential, in all these aspects of
(3) Communication is Essential
Some people are better communicators than others. This does not mean that
people who find communication difficult can manage without it. John and Louise
were typical of a couple who found communication difficult.
John was a quiet man, who found it difficult to let anyone know what he was
thinking or feeling. Louise was more open and direct. She let John know exactly
what was wrong when she was upset. But within an hour or two she would have
forgotten about her anger. John was different, he would feel hurt and rejected
for days after a row with Louise.
They learnt to get along together. John often felt lonely. Louise felt
frustrated that she could never sort out anything with John. Then a major crisis
struck. Their third child was born severely handicapped.
John didn't cry, and couldn't let anyone know how upset he was, or let Louise
know how deeply he felt for her in her grief and worry. His sadness came out as
anger, the only feeling he felt safe with, anger with the hospital, Louise and
anyone else who caught his attention.
Louise couldn't understand John's anger, and felt increasingly bitter that
John didn't seem to share her unhappiness. After a few months, the arguments and
the bitterness got to a level where Louise couldn't stand it any more. She left
John and Louise would have said "we don't communicate anymore", but they
were, of course, communicating some fairly strong messages to each other. Not
talking to someone does not mean you are not communicating. Silence is a form of
communication. It will be interpreted as anger, or sulking, or perhaps even
John and Louise would have had a much more rewarding relationship if they had
been able to communicate more clearly. So when the crisis came, they would have
been able to work together and support each other.
(4) What is Communication?
Communication is one person giving information to another.
The information may be about
- Facts - "I got a pay rise today"
- Opinion - "I reckon overtime will be cut soon"
- Feelings - "I'm really scared about being laid-off soon"
We are so used to communicating with others that we forget how complicated it
can be. To communicate clearly with your partner you need to:
- be clear about what you want to communicate
- convey your message so that it can be received and understood and your
- hear the message accurately
- understand what you mean.
At any of these stages, misunderstandings can occur. These can easily lead to
hurt, anger or confusion. The good news is that with a little persistence, these
misunderstandings can be easily corrected. When we communicate we also give a
great deal of information without using words, by our body posture, by our tone
of voice, and by the expression on our face.
These non-verbal means of communicating can tell the other person how we feel
about them. If our feelings don't fit with the words, it tends to be the
non-verbal communication that gets heard and believed. Try saying "I love you"
to your partner in a flat, bored tone of voice without looking at him or her,
and see what reaction you get!
The message you send is not necessarily the one the other person will receive
and respond to. There are two ways we can guard against this sort of distortion.
If you are sending a message:
- be aware of what you want to say. Especially be aware of what you are
feeling about your partner or the situation.
- use "I" statements. That is, say what you want or feel, rather than make a
statement about your partner. That way, your partner is more likely to listen
to you without feeling attacked.
For example try saying "I'm disappointed that you don't want to come to the
cinema with me tonight" instead of "Why don't you want to come to the cinema
Then, if you really want to know why, you can ask after you have made the "I"
statement. If you feel any doubt or disagreement, or you find yourself reacting
strongly to something your partner has said, then first check that you have
heard the message accurately. "You mean ..." This is called 'active listening'.
(5) Blind Spots
Most of us find some experiences or topics difficult to talk about. Perhaps,
it is something that reminds us of a painful experience, or something that makes
us feel uncomfortable:
a woman whose parents always had loud and bitter arguments when she was a
child finds it hard to talk to her husband about anything that might lead to a
disagreement. She is afraid of any disagreement turning into the painful fights
her parents had.
a man finds it hard to let his wife know when he is feeling vulnerable and,
if he is honest with himself, when he wants to be comforted. He was always told
as a child that men don't cry or show weakness.
The things that cannot be talked about often hurt the most.
(6) Improving Communication
Communication can be improved. Open and clear communication can be learned.
Start by asking these questions:
- what things cause upsets between you and you partner? Are they because you
are not listening to each other?
- what things cause you disappointment and pain? What things don't you talk
about and what stops you talking about them?
- how would you like your communication with your partner to be different?
If possible, ask your partner to think about these same questions. Then share
notes, without criticising each other.
Next try this experiment.
Decide on some ways in which you are going to communicate differently. See
what effect this has on your partner, and change the way you communicate based
on the response you get.
Remember - it takes two to communicate, and changing your part in the
communication will lead to changes. You don't have to wait for your partner to
If your partner is willing, you could both try the experiment. Don't let on
to each other what aspect of communication you are going to change, but after an
agreed period (perhaps a week) sit down and compare notes.
You will find that as you become more aware of how you communicate, you will
be able to take more control over what happens between you. Opening up new
issues and areas of communication may not be easy at first, but as time passes
you will find that it leads to a more fulfilling relationship.
If you find that there are aspects of communication in your relationship that
you cannot improve by yourself, then consider having a talk with a relationship
Counsellors are trained to recognise the patterns in a couple's communication
that are causing problems, and to help change those patterns.
Counselling is confidential. Usually it takes only a few meetings to make
some worthwhile changes.
You could alternatively consider doing a course provided by Relationships
Australia. such as Getting it Together a relationship course for couples or
Living in a Step-family a course for couples where one or both partners have a
child or children from a previous relationship.
It makes sense to take action early and spend a little time talking to
someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.
This information is provided by Relationships Australia who are
Australia's leading provider of professional services to support relationships.
It is a not-for profit community based organisation. Our Mission: Relationships
Australia is committed to enhancing the lives of communities, families and
individuals by being the leading professional provider of quality relationship
support services. Our Goals: To work in partnership with others to ensure a
society which supports positive and respectful relationships; To serve a more
diverse range of clients; To provide relevant services that meet the needs of
clients; To adopt business practices that enable the delivery of efficient and
effective services; To ensure a positive work environment that delivers outcomes
for clients; and To be financially robust to achieve our goals.
You can contact the national office of Relationships Australia on 1300 364
277 to find your closest state branch.