Do you feel like your marriage suffers from communication issues, but you’re not sure what to look for?
You’re in the right place—below, we’re discussing the telltale signs of bad communication and giving tips on how to improve it.
The key signs of communication issues are:
- Frequent miscommunication and fighting without resolution
- Stonewalling, defensiveness and silent treatment
- Pointing fingers and trying to “win” arguments
- Acting on assumptions rather than discussing first with your spouse
- Feeling like you can’t talk to your spouse about certain things
- Not letting your partner speak their mind
- Resentment, annoyance and low emotional closeness with your spouse
- Lack of teamwork
If you’re worried lack of communication is going to be the end of your marriage, learn how to stop the negative cycles and approach your spouse in a way that they’ll really hear you.
We highly recommend Dr. Lee Baucom’s best-selling program Save The Marriage.
Click the link above, or keep reading to find out what bad communication looks like below.
Table of Contents
20 Key signs of communication problems in your marriage
1. Frequent misunderstandings
How often do you think to yourself, “Wow, how did we miscommunicate this badly?”
Misunderstandings happen—they don’t in and of themselves indicate chronic communication issues.
But when you’re constantly finding yourself on a different page and you have no idea how you got there, it’s one of the classic signs of bad communication.
2. Feeling irritated talking to your spouse
Do you easily lose patience trying to explain yourself to your spouse?
Perhaps you start getting exasperated before you even talk because you’re playing a video of it going south in your mind, like it always seems to.
Communication shouldn’t be so difficult as to put you on edge like this.
So it’s definitely a sign of bad communication.
3. Constant conflict
Fighting about anything and everything is generally a sign of poor communication.
But so is fighting about the same thing over and over again.
It often points to a lack of conflict resolution between you, creating repeat triggers that reignite arguments.
4. You don’t know how to tell your spouse things
Feel like your spouse is too touchy to bring up certain topics?
Whether or not it’s true, it means that you’re holding back and not sharing potentially pretty important information for fear of your spouse’s reactions.
This can cause all sorts of issues to spin out of control and create mistrust.
5. Having disagreements go off-topic
If disagreeing about where to go out to eat turns into an argument about all the sacrifices you’ve made for your relationship, you’ve probably got some deeper issues to talk about in your marriage.
Having poor communication tends to make these issues come out at the wrong place and time.
When we’re always ready for a fight, we stop listening.
You may feel defensive because your partner criticizes you or dismisses your feelings.
Or you may feel like your partner is blaming you or trying to make you feel bad.
But if you automatically go on the defensive, it produces a dynamic where the other person is forced to try to diffuse the situation.
Not to mention, it’s difficult to share genuine concerns with someone who’s defensive and reactionary.
7. Stonewalling or silent treatment
Stonewalling is when your spouse disengages from a conversation or from interacting with you by doing things like ignoring you, turning away from you and pretending they’re too busy.
It’s really not all that different from silent treatment, although stonewalling tends to happen when someone feels emotionally overwhelmed while silent treatment is used to cause emotional pain.
Either way, these tactics definitely don’t encourage expression and connection, and they’re often symptoms of some troubling communication problems in a marriage.
Read Next: How to Save Your Marriage
8. Making assumptions
Assuming is the enemy of good communication.
Let’s say you go ahead and make nonrefundable hotel reservations for you and your husband or wife without telling them.
But when your spouse finds out, they’re upset because it’s too remote for their liking, doesn’t serve breakfast and doesn’t have the amenities they wanted.
You had assumed that the hotel didn’t matter all that much, so you didn’t ask.
This may seem pretty trivial to you, but when you assume things without communicating with your spouse, it can make them feel not only frustrated, but also like you might be dismissive of their needs.
9. Focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong
If you or your partner is mostly interested in “winning,” you’re probably missing a lot of the subtext and information in the conversations you’re having.
Effective communication in a relationship requires more patience and empathy than correctness and rationality.
10. Not letting your spouse speak for themselves
There are couples who fall into a communication pattern where one partner speaks for the other.
Usually, it’s totally innocuous, like jumping in to fill in your spouse’s story with the intention of explaining it to friends.
But doing so can deprive your spouse of self-expression, and take away the opportunity for you to hear their perspective.
11. Low emotional intimacy or physical intimacy
Intimacy, whether it’s physical or emotional intimacy, needs a safe and loving environment to grow.
When partners feel they can’t share their thoughts and feelings, intimacy is typically one of the first casualties.
Likewise, as emotional closeness gets less and less, communication becomes icier, more awkward or restrained.
If you don’t know how to break through your spouse’s walls and rebuild intimacy, learn why “right action” should go hand-in-hand with good communication in Save The Marriage.
12. Making “always” and “never” statements
“You’re always in a bad mood.”
“You never take the trash out when it’s full.”
These are exaggerated statements that we might use when we’re upset.
And while it’s seldom true, it may feel in the moment like your partner never pick up after themselves when they leave a used towel on the floor.
The problem is, this will make your partner feel like you only see the negative and lead to finger-pointing.
Especially if you make these kinds of statements about your partner’s character and personality, it can be hurtful and reduce them to generalizations.
13. Closed-off body language
Reading someone’s body language can tell you a lot about your communication with them.
For example, if your spouse is frequently turned away from you, doesn’t look at you and avoids eye contact while you’re talking, they’re probably not listening very well.
You may also be able to tell if they’re not comfortable talking about something if their arms are folded tightly across their chest and their face looks tense.
With an estimated 55% of communication being body language, it’s important to pay attention to what your spouse is silently signaling.
Gaslighting is when someone makes you feel crazy for your thoughts, feelings and memories.
If your partner says, “That didn’t happen” and makes you question your memories, or twists things to make you feel guilty when they’ve betrayed your trust, those are signs of gaslighting.
A healthy relationship is one in which partners validate each other, not get mocked or steamrolled.
Even claiming you’re overreacting or making you think you shouldn’t feel the way you do is a subtle form of this toxic type of communication.
15. Resentment from suppressing your feelings
Resentment builds up when we don’t communicate effectively about the things that bother us.
You might be biting your tongue about putting the kids to bed 90% of the time because you don’t want to blow it up into a fight.
But ask yourself how not talking about it is affecting your emotional health.
If you find yourself snapping at the your husband or wife for chewing too loudly after they leave a dirty bowl in the sink, you might be transferring that stress from not speaking up.
16. Feeling like you’re not being heard
We all need to feel heard in our relationships.
Maybe your partner is not the best listener—or maybe they hear you, but they don’t understand you.
If you continue to feel unseen and unheard, you may shut down and stop attempting to share your thoughts at all.
17. Passive aggressive communication
Passive-aggressive communication is thinly veiled frustration that seems to come out at random times throughout your relationship.
Bad communication like this eats away at your emotional connection.
- Taking little digs at your spouse
- Claiming rude comments are jokes
- Complaining loudly about the toothpaste all over the sink so your partner feels bad
- When your partner says, “Nothing” when you ask what’s wrong, but they’re clearly fuming
Remember, too, that you can say something “correctly” but still make it passive-aggressive by your tone of voice.
These are signs of bad communication and show that you and your partner need to find a way to share your thoughts directly (and kindly).
18. Lack of teamwork
Aren’t you and your spouse supposed to be a team?
So why can’t you seem to get anything done together?
Married couples need to be able to talk about the future and compromise to reach mutual goals.
Relationships that lack proper communication skills, however, will not be able to do that.
In relationships with bad communication, it’s all about what you want vs. what your partner wants.
Which is dangerous because that can easily lead to you looking at your spouse like an obstacle rather than your soulmate.
19. You only talk openly through text messages
Raise your hand if your spouse storms off silently after a fight and then floods your inbox with angry texts.
For one thing, there is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation—or a phone call if your relationship is long-distance.
Texts lack nuance and can create more misunderstandings because they strip away much of the humanness of communication.
If you can only talk about why you’re mad through text, you might want to do some introspection to discover what’s holding you back from speaking directly to your spouse.
20. Hearing about your spouse’s personal life from other people
Do you feel like relative strangers like coworkers know your spouse better than you do?
Does our partner unload their woes on their friends, but not you?
Usually, your spouse is the primary person you would share exciting and important details of your life with.
So if you don’t know what’s going on in your partner’s life unless you find out from their colleagues or in-laws, you’ll need to get to the bottom of why they’re not comfortable sharing these things with you.
Critical tips to improve communication issues
- Spend more quality time together—This will strengthen your emotional connection, and thus communication.
- Be aware of passive aggressive behavior—Practice mindfulness and observe your words and actions. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for a do-over.
- Tell your partner what you need and how you feel—Learning to talk directly about your needs and feelings will help you stop passive-aggressive communication and, most importantly, inform your partner.
- Ask questions—If assuming is the enemy of healthy communication, asking questions is the remedy. Ask your partner how they feel, what they think and what they mean to stop assumptions and misunderstandings.
- Don’t let wounds fester—Get your feelings out in the open and talk about things when you’re feeling hurt or offended.
- Use “I” statements—Repeat after me: “I feel [emotion] when [this happens].” For example, “I feel worried when I don’t hear from you.” “I” statements like these help you take responsibility for your own emotions instead of assigning blame so you can discuss what bothers you.
- Show interest in your partner—The simple act of staying curious about your partner can make them feel more appreciated, bonded and attractive to you, which can all have a positive effect on communication.
- Respect your partner’s space—Allow them to speak for themselves and when they do, respect their thoughts, feelings and opinions.
- Listen—Make sure you’re really listening by paying attention with your whole body and not just thinking about what you’re going to say next.
- Practice mirroring—When you repeat back what you think you hear your partner saying, you show that you’re listening and help clarify information.
- Stay focused on the topic—Bringing up seemingly related examples of your partner’s transgressions when they’ve just done something that upsets you can confuse the issue. Stay focused on the present issue to find a resolution.
- Keep an open mind—Approach communication with your spouse as an opportunity to learn from them. Showing you want to understand their point of view will make them feel heard and encourage them to reciprocate.
- Empathize—Empathy nurtures positive feedback and lowers your partner’s defenses.
- Compromise—The goals of communication are understanding and compromise, not “winning.”
Poor communication can be hard to notice if you’re not vigilant.
But even serious communication issues can be resolved with mindfulness, directness and self-discipline.
The way you state things is very important in practicing good communication, which is why using techniques like “I” statements is so important.
Ultimately, if you create a safe, loving and nonjudgmental space, you and your partner can open up more and talk about things in a constructive way.
What causes poor communication in marriage?
There are many little things that add up to lack of communication in marriage, including:
- Unresolved conflict
- Not having a good understanding of what healthy communication is
- Trust issues
- Coming into your marriage with pre-existing communication problems
- Losing the lightheartedness in your conversations
- Having things you feel you need to hide from your spouse
What are 5 communication patterns that hurt relationships?
Here are 5 communication patterns that can hurt your relationship:
- Blaming—Blame makes people feel bad and destroys emotional intimacy.
- Not letting your partner get a word in edgewise—If you don’t let your partner speak, you risk trampling boundaries and hurting their sense of self-confidence and autonomy.
- Gaslighting—Trying to make someone question their reality is a highly toxic communication pattern that leads to imbalanced power dynamics and emotional and psychological abuse.
- Believing your partner should already know something—Assuming you don’t need to explain your thoughts and feelings because your partner should already know breaks down communication and breeds feelings of disappointment, failure and frustration.
- Criticism—Criticizing your partner can make them feel inadequate and like they can’t do anything right in your eyes.
What happens to a marriage when there is no communication?
Ultimately, a marriage with no communication has a poor chance of surviving.
It leads to escalated arguments, mistrust, animosity and misunderstandings.
People who don’t communicate in their relationships can end up feeling like they’re living with a stranger.
And in the end, they may question the value of being in the relationship like this.
What is stonewalling in marriage?
Stonewalling is when one partner shuts down and refuses to communicate or interact with someone else out of perceived self-preservation.
Examples of someone stonewalling you are:
- Claiming to be too busy to a conversation with you
- Suddenly walking away in the middle of a conversation
- Changing the subject to avoid talking about it
- Staying silent or refusing to answer your questions
- Avoiding eye contact and using disengaged body language
What is normal communication in a relationship (healthy communication)?
“Normal” communication is healthy, effective communication.
It’s when two people can work together to solve problems and resolve a conflict in a manner that’s kind, compassionate and equitable.
Signs of healthy communication are when partners feel comfortable discussing their ideas and emotions, are honest and have respect for each other’s boundaries.
To get started improving poor communication and helping your marriage get back on track, check out Lee Baucom’s method of nurturing the “we” in your relationship in Save The Marriage.