For many couples the breakdown of communication happens very gradually. Couples in this situation are often able to communicate at a functional level - about what is happening during the week , who is picking up the kids, how much the gas bill was and so on - but not at a more intimate level. Conversations about spending time as a couple, hopes and fears for the future, feelings about the relationship are few and far between and often inconclusive.
People talk about drifting apart without really noticing. Sometimes work, interests such as sport or music, friends, children or other family commitments take precedence so that the couple relationship gets forgotten. When the couple – or more usually one partner – notices they’re not really communicating, it often seems that they are almost living separately.
It may be that people don’t talk because it’s too difficult to know where to start. There may be a hope that difficulties will resolve themselves if ignored for long enough. There may be a fear that talking about feeling that things aren’t great will lead to the end of the relationship. Other people feel that they can’t talk to their partner without hurting them. They may feel they’ll be misunderstood or just not able to express what they need to say. For other people, talking is frightening because it leads to arguments and conflict that will never be resolved.
People often say communication has broken down because their partner ‘never listens’. Again there can be many reasons for this. It may be that communication is based on assumption. Each partner ‘knows’ what the other is going to say so feels there is no point in listening. Or it may be that attempts to talk are interrupted when the couple or one partner is distracted by for example children coming in, by something coming up on tv /by Facebook/ by email or text messages.
Sometimes couples can start to communicate again simply by acknowledging that they have got out of the habit of talking to each other. If this is the case for you, try agreeing to put aside time to talk.
· It needs to be a time that works for both of you – e.g. not when one or both you is about to go to bed
· it might be at the same time each week or may be on a more ad hoc basis.
· It needs to be a time when you can give each other your undivided attention – no screens or other distractions.
· It can be helpful to agree how long you’re going to talk – maybe 10- 15 minutes to start with- but see how it goes. If both of you feel this isn’t long enough, you can always agree to extend the time
Some couples find this easiest to do at home, maybe over a cup of tea or a meal. Sometimes it’s easier to go out of the home – for example - going for a walk can make chats about the relationship seem less intense.
We’ve already tried everything
Sometimes though, couples feel they’ve tried to do this, but it hasn’t helped. They still seem to go round and round in circles. In these situations, couple counselling can be effective in helping partners to explore and understand the couple dynamic. From there the couple can find new ways to communicate.