What are couples really meaning when they say, “We can’t communicate”?

The issue with understanding what this means is what they mean by “communicate.”

All too often, when a partner states, “We can’t communicate,” what he or she means is “I can’t get my partner to listen to me and understand things from my point of view.”

And underneath this is, “If my partner only understood things through my eyes, he or she would then change and do things my way.”

So what partners often mean when they say, “We can’t communicate,” is “I want to control my partner and he or she won’t listen.”

Think about the last time you tried to communicate with your partner. Now, be honest with yourself – why did you want to communicate?

The chances are that if what you wanted to communicate about was an interesting or funny situation that happened to you, or about your own learning and growth with no agenda for your partner to change, your partner was more than willing to listen.

But if you wanted to communicate about your feelings of unhappiness about something your partner did or was doing, your partner was not so receptive.

Or your partner might tune you out if you were being a victim and complaining about someone or a situation and wanting sympathy rather than real help.

Too often, communicating your “feelings” is a way of making your partner responsible for your feelings. He or she has to change for you to feel okay, or do something to take responsibility for your feelings.

When this is the case, your partner might be less than enthusiastic about communicating, because his or her experience is that you are using your feelings as a form of blame and control. No one likes to be at the other end of that.

When couples consult with me and state “We can’t communicate,” I immediately know that, in one way or another, they are both trying to control each other rather than learn.

What they really mean is that they can’t communicate about problems because one or both are not open to learning about themselves and the other.

One or both are trying to get the other to change rather than learn about how they are each creating their own problems or the problem between them and what loving actions they each need to take.

Many couples, at the beginning of their relationship, say, “We can talk to each other for hours.” Yet later in the relationship they “can’t communicate.”

This is because at the beginning of the relationship they were not making the other person responsible for their feelings. They were sharing themselves and listening to the other to LEARN about each other.

Yet, within a short time of moving into a committed relationship, they stop learning and start controlling. Instead of giving and sharing, they are now trying to get something from each other.

They get stuck in a system where they each want control over getting what they want from the other person – understanding, acceptance, time, attention, approval, affection, sex.

As soon as they start to try to have control over getting what they want, they are likely to get into power struggles, as one or both resist being controlled, or one continually gives in and then feels used and resentful.

When each partner learns how to take responsibility for their own feelings, lets go of trying to control the other, and moves into an intent to learn about themselves and each other, they regain their ability to communicate. 

They don’t even need to “learn how to communicate”! Good communication is natural when the intent of the communication is to learn rather than to control.

About the author:

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process. Are you are ready to discover real love and intimacy? Learn Inner Bonding now!

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