Communication in Relationships – How to improve communication.


Communication is crucial in creating and maintaining a relationship, whether with an intimate partner, child, friend or in a professional relationship. How you communicate will culminate in your ability to resolve conflict, solve problems and dictate the level of trust you create in your relationship. Insufficient communication may result in confusion, development of poor communication patterns and misunderstanding.

This article will focus on communication in intimate relationships.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” M. Scott Peck

How many people have at some stage been in a conversation with their partner which seemed to be spiralling out of control. Did you think to yourself, “why is this person not understanding what I am saying, and what is this person talking about.” Did you feel the other person was not listening or concentrating at the time? Or perhaps they are from a different planet. How could the other person not understand something so simple and so obvious, we have been through this before. I am right and they are wrong! By this time the “fight or flight” responses have set in and either become an extremely loud debate or alternatively one or both partners have decided that silent treatment is the only way to end this squabble. The disagreement could have been over something important, or something trivial, and may last only a few minutes, however the emotional aftermath may be quite severe. If this scenario sounds familiar, then it is likely caused by a lack of effective communication.


A primary way of individuals wanting to improve their intimate relationship is to change their partners. Research has revealed that engaging in hostile, critical or demanding communication behaviour and negative influence attempts leads to lower relationship satisfaction.


While speaking may be considered by many to be the most important element of communication, good listening skills are crucial to successful communication. Effective listening helps to improve rapport, understand the message others are trying to convey, and improves problem solving skills. Nonverbal communication is communication without words. The better your nonverbal skills the more successful you are likely to be in a wide variety of interpersonal communication situations including intimate relationships. Dr Albert Mehrabian’s communication model posits that the elements of personal communication are 7% spoken words, 38% voice, tone and 55% body language. This suggests that when communicating, a speaker’s words (7%) represent only a fraction of their efforts. The tone and rhythm (38%) express more than what is being spoken. Furthermore gestures, posture pose and expression (55%) convey a variety of signals. Nonverbal communication offers important clues to the words being spoken, including thoughts and feelings which substantiate or contradict the speaker’s words.
Intimate relationships are interdependent, and should meet emotional, relational and instrumental needs. The way we communicate with our partners can either build up or break down the relationship.


Here are 6 common barriers to communication:
1. Listening. Good listening skills are crucial to effective communication. They help you to better understand the information the other person is trying to convey, improve your rapport with others, and improve your problem solving skills.


2. Language. The words you use may create barriers to communication. This may stem from language differences or interpretation of words you may use in a different way. Poor grammar, using words incorrectly, or lack of understanding or context can be extremely confusing to the listener. Avoid ambiguous word choices, jargon or colloquialisms if you wish to convey your true feelings so that they can be understood by the other person.


3. Emotional deterrents. When emotions are involved there is likely to be a greater potential for misunderstanding. If a person is upset or angry, they may not be able to effectively communicate their feelings or ideas. And if the person listening is in a similar state, it may distort the message they receive from the other person.


4. Environmental Obstructions. This includes factors such as interruptions, distractions, physical environment issues such as noise or lighting, talking too softly or a physical barrier between the couple. These obstructions may lead to a breakdown in communication.


5. Timing. Timing of communication can affect the ability to be understood. There may be insufficient time to communicate the message fully, or it may be too early or late for someone to give their full attention.


6. Perceptions. Each person has their own unique way of interpreting information, including communication. The person speaking will communicate in a way that makes sense to him or her, while the person listening takes in the information in a way which makes sense to him or her. The reality is that the messages may be perceived differently which inhibits communication. Factors which may impede perceptions are age, education, gender, social and economic status, cultural background, religion, political beliefs, etc and can create barriers to effective communication.


Communicate better with your partner
Finding time to have face to face communication with your partner can be challenging, however it is important to set aside quality time to improve communication. Here are 6 methods that may help.

1. Be available. Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure those who may need to contact you know how to reach you, e.g. work phone, cellphone, etc. When you are together, take time out to talk, ask questions and have meaningful conversations.


2. Make a commitment to your relationships. Make your relationships a priority. A relationship is a work in progress. It needs attention and effort to flourish. No matter how busy you are, make time to spend quality time together, even if you have to schedule specific time slots on your calendars.


3. Build structure. Part of being able to communicate effectively is making time for meaningful conversations in a setting free of distractions. Schedule time for face-to-face communication. Set a regular weekly meeting to catch up and discuss any issues that have arisen. Consider making at least one dinner a week mandatory for all family members, allowing no telephone interruptions or visits from friends. This gives family members a chance to talk about what’s going on and to focus on each other.


4. Seize the moment. Catch up with whenever you have an opportunity, though this may require some spontaneity. Being in a car together is almost always a good chance to talk; ordering a pizza to share when you have a quiet night at home is another way to catch up.


5. Eliminate distractions. Cutting down on distractions, such as the computer, the phone, radio and television, sets the stage for conversation. Try not to bury yourself in email, the paper or a book when it’s possible to have real communication.


6. Reschedule and follow through. If someone wants to discuss something at a time when you can’t give your full attention, explain why you can’t talk, set a time to talk later, and then follow through on it.



DeVito, A, J. (2013). Interpersonal Communication Book, The: Pearson New International Edition, 13th Edition
LifeCare. (2011). Communication skills for Healthy Relationships
Overall, N. C., Fletcher, G. J. O., & Simpson, J. A. (2006). Regulation processes in intimate relationships: The role of ideal standards. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 662–685.