Why Marriages Suffer From Communication Breakdowns

Whether you're newly wed or you and your spouse have been going strong for decades, you've probably heard the age-old saying: "Communication is key." While you can (and should) shrug off most of the unsolicited marriage advice that is thrown your way, this nugget of wisdom rings true. A foundation of open communication often leads to a strong and healthy relationship that can stand the test of time, per Better Health Channel.

When couples don't share with each other and work through their inevitable conflicts with respect, it can lead to a communication breakdown. According to Marriage.com, signs of a communication breakdown in your marriage include feeling "strained or forced" to talk with your partner, having no desire to discuss things with your partner, or the feeling that you and your spouse are "two strangers."

Communication breakdowns are one of the most common reasons for divorce. One study published in "Couple and Family Psychology" reported that a disconnect in communication often leads to excessive conflict and arguing, which isn't easily resolved due to the couple's inability to talk openly with one another. The cycle of poor communication continues and both parties end up suffering. Fortunately, these cycles can be broken — but first, it's important to identify the root of the communication problems.

Do you and your spouse spend quality time together?

According to Pew Research Center, love and companionship is by far the main reason that people choose to get married. But after the wedding, many couples fall into a routine and forget to prioritize spending time with each other like they did when they were dating. If you and your spouse don't make an active effort to enjoy each other's company, you may start to drift apart. This can lead to a serious lack of communication and an uptick of conflicts when you and your partner do interact.

Insider warns that some couples stop learning about each other when they don't spend time together. A recurring pattern of not knowing anything about your significant other's daily routine or stressors can end up causing larger issues.

Like any relationship, you don't need to spend every moment together — sometimes, time by yourself can even strengthen your relationship. But if you find yourself uninterested in going on dates or even avoiding plans with your partner, your relationship might be in trouble.

Are you and your spouse getting intimate?

When your relationship first began, you and your spouse were all over each other. But now, the stress and responsibilities of everyday life take up all your time. Between kids, work, and household duties, you're both exhausted at the end of the day and don't have the energy to show your partner some love. If you can't remember the last time you and your partner connected physically, you may be suffering from a lack of intimacy. This is an extremely common problem that happens in relationships, per The New York Times, but if it goes unnoticed or undiscussed, it can lead to a disconnect in emotional intimacy and eventually, a communication breakdown.

According to VeryWellMind, lack of intimacy and communication issues go hand in hand. If one of you senses a strain in your intimate life, but you are afraid to bring it up to the other for fear of a conflict, resentment can begin to grow. Being in constant conflict with your partner is not exactly an aphrodisiac, therefore the cycle continues and you are neither communicating nor being intimate with your partner.

Sex isn't the only form of intimacy your relationship could be lacking — emotional intimacy is a key part of a healthy relationship. Per Better by Today, examples include connecting in non-physical ways, being vulnerable, and trusting each other. These aspects of a relationship can be strained or even forgotten when a communication breakdown occurs.

Do you and your spouse show each other respect during conflict?

All relationships are tested from time to time. Arguments, disagreements, and even the occasional hurt feelings are all inevitable: healthy relationships are measured not by the number of conflicts that occur, but rather by how problems are solved.

According to HuffPost, marriage experts advise couples to remember that they are on the same team by taking an "us versus the problem" approach. When couples struggle to communicate, they may start solving problems with a "you versus me" attitude. Conversations often become disrespectful, attacking the person rather than the problem. This can lead to excessive conflict, criticism, and contempt within a marriage (via Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors).

If conflicts become too intense, you and your partner might begin stonewalling each other. This happens when communication stops altogether because discussing conflict is too overwhelming for one or both partners. Per The Gottman Institute, the term got its name from the metaphorical "build[ing of] a wall between them and their partner." Couples who experience stonewalling often ignore each other out of fear of further problems.

Are you and your spouse working through trauma?

From a death in the family to financial loss, shared trauma is bound to occur within a marriage. Marriage.com reports that in cases of trauma, individuals may be so "consumed with a loss" that a communication breakdown occurs within their marriage. However, when life throws you a curveball, it's time for you and your spouse to practice those marriage vows. "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health" isn't just a promise, it's a prediction of a couple's journey ahead. If a couple cannot find a way to work through trauma together, a communication breakdown can make it harder to reconnect and heal.

Sometimes, relationship trauma is self-inflicted, such as infidelity or misuse of trust. Other times, trauma is due to a tragic accident such as the loss of a child. But occasionally, both partners bring their individual past trauma into their marriage, and old wounds affect their new relationship (via Ambre Associates).

Past relationship trauma can lead to a fear of commitment, fear of intimacy, or unwarranted mistrust that affect your new, healthy relationship. If you felt unsafe or experienced abuse in your past, you may find yourself recoiling from your partner's attempts at making healthy connections. Over time, with no communication and little progress, your partner may stop attempting to help and the trauma responses may continue hurting both of you.

How to reconnect with your spouse after a communication breakdown

If you and your partner are suffering from a communication breakdown, do not worry. Relationships can survive a lack of communication and come back stronger than ever. In order to work, however, both people need to be committed to working through their individual issues as well as the couple dynamic.

According to PsychCentral, processing your own feelings before approaching your partner with a problem is a great first step to managing communication breakdowns. Take time to identify exactly what you want to communicate by journaling, practicing mindfulness, or even rehearsing before confronting your partner.

Once you and your partner are calm and open to discussion, try not to blindside your partner with intense communication. Agree on a time and place to talk things out, and establish your expectations for each other such as using "I" statements when discussing feelings. Women Working also recommends making a scheduled routine of intentionally checking in with each other to encourage the habit of talking openly.

Growing stronger together takes time, and sometimes outside help. There is no shame in seeking help; every relationship could benefit from couple's therapy. One study found that nearly 50% of married couples have had some sort of marital counseling (via Open Counseling). If you and your partner decide that you need another voice to help solve your communication breakdowns, seeking a licensed therapist you trust can be extremely beneficial.