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9 Reasons Your Communication Sucks

communication problems couple

If you’re like most couples, you communicate fine. Until you don’t. One minute you’re having a discussion, the next minute you’re fighting again. Your voice gets louder; your tone becomes sarcastic and demeaning. You end up feeling angry or hurt again. What happened?

You’re normal. But you don’t have to be a normal couple neck deep in conflict wondering what happened and where you went wrong. You can have a wonderful marriage and learn to experience better communication.

Look for the most obvious source.

Your communication breakdown is not random like it seems. Interacting with your spouse contains many variables. It’s important to look at the setting and background of your communication fail to see how you can improve. A few years ago I talked to a friend of mine who is a family practice doctor. He explained doctors are trained to look for the most obvious or most common source of illness and rule it out before going on to conduct other testing for more obscure or rare diseases which could account for the problem. You need to do the same in your marriage. Don’t assume your current communication problem is a serious relationship disorder or deep childhood scarring preventing you from understanding each other. Look for the obvious first. Communication breaks down the most when:

You’re tired.

Communicating when tired is like driving when you are sleepy. It’s dangerous. Proceed with caution. Communication takes focus; when your ability to focus deteriorates you crash. It’s best to shorten conversations or pause them until morning if you are tired. Continue your conversation after you have rested when you can have a coherent thought and responsible reaction again.

You’re hungry.

Our bodies need fuel. Kindergarten teachers know kids need a snack. Adults forget to fuel their bodies and get grumpy. Communicating with a hungry bear goes better after you give them a fat salmon.

You’re stressed.

Communication get tense when you are facing a deadline at work or dealing with another mini crisis like your kids yelling and fighting over the bag of Cheetos. Anxiety is related to stress in that it can feel like stress another major reason for poor communication.

You’re sick or in pain.

The way our bodies feel impact our ability to communicate effectively. The worse your spouse feels the more difficult it is to say what you mean. People who hit their thumb with a hammer say words they would normally not say. The same happens when you feel sick or are experiencing physical pain.

For a humorous look at relationships during times of sickness check out my blog post In Sickness.

You’re distracted.

Communicating with a spouse while they are looking at their phone is like talking to a mannequin and feels equally awkward. You may feel like you can check Facebook and talk to your spouse at the same time but you can’t. Your communication stinks when you are distracted.

Pay attention to what is going on right now.

The obvious answer is often the best answer. You must address the immediate barriers to your communication first. Forcing communication when you’re tired is not a good idea. The advice of “never go to bed angry” is great advice only if you’re not tired. If you are tired pausing your conversation and getting some sleep is much better than trying to resolve communication problems when you are tired. But wait, there’s never a time when you’re not tired? I’ve been there. When we first became parents we didn’t know what day it was or even if it was day or night. You can still communicate when tired but you have to be aware of your diminished capacity. Acknowledge the obvious barrier to good communication.

Waiting until the world is perfect will never work but you can overcome common barriers to good communication fairly quickly. Get food, then communicate. Put your phone down, then communicate. Notice what is going on for your spouse. It may be helpful to start a conversation by pointing out the obvious. For example say: “I know you are stressed because of your work deadline and I love your dedication. Can we please talk a minute about the kid’s dentist appointment tomorrow?” Pointing out the primary external barrier always works better than “hey! you never pay attention to me. I said you have to take the kids to the dentist tomorrow!”

Major barriers need attention too.

Not all barriers to good communication are immediately obvious or superficial. Major barriers must get resolved before you can proceed with effective communication in marriage. These major barriers can be signs of deeper emotional issues in the relationship.

You’re dishonest.

Lying to your spouse in any form crushes trust. Even “stretching the truth” to avoid an argument cripples communication. It may seem like a no brainer but I’ve seen couples in counseling who regularly lie to their partner and wonder why their relationship is not working and intimacy is suffering.

You’re not listening.

For good communication in marriage you have to listen to your spouse and feel listened to. Without listening it doesn’t matter what is said, communication will falter. Relationships without listening cannot thrive and often don’t survive.

You’re critical.

Spouse’s who criticize each other constantly cannot develop good communication. You may not even realize you are critical of your spouse. Would your spouse say you are their biggest cheerleader? If you don’t communicate your support of your spouse you likely come across as too critical. You must recognize your destructive pattern and stop criticizing your spouse before you can experience wonderful communication.

You’re hurtful.

Spouses go beyond criticism and hurt each other by repeatedly opening old emotional wounds. Touching painful emotions will happen in marriage, it’s unavoidable, but couples who relentlessly jab their partner’s previous hurts destroy connection. You know what topics are sensitive or painful in your marriage. Perhaps it’s money, visiting the in-laws, or a former addiction.

Your communication may suck for a variety of reasons, immediately obvious, or deeper in nature. The good news is you don’t have to stay in your same pattern of terrible communication.


For those ready to go even deeper to experience wonderful communication with your spouse my premium training course is for you. My brand new course 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage is an action oriented system to improve your communication. In only one month you’ll develop new communication patterns and experience renewed connection with your spouse. Get your 30 Day journey started today.

When Celebrities Divorce: Quick insight from a marriage counselor

Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton
Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton

Country Singers Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert recently announced they are divorcing.

It seems sad. I watched a convincing interview not too long ago in which they explain how they fell in love and how much they love each other.

It may not seem like it but famous people get divorced for the same reasons others do. Their entertaining lifestyle and large bank accounts don’t exempt them from needing the basics required of every good marriage.

Healthy relationships require time together, exclusivity, and good communication to thrive. Perhaps Blake and Miranda lacked one of these vital parts of a thriving relationship. Hopefully our curiosity will not further impede on their request for privacy.

When you hear of a celebrity divorce don’t waste time speculating about why their relationship failed. Instead use it as a reminder to focus on YOUR marriage and intentionally invest in making your relationship stronger today.

You probably already know how to invest in your marriage. Go on a date, put your phone away for the evening, and talk to each other. If you are still lost check out my marriage blog and my new course:30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage.

Less nagging, more understanding, and incredible intimacy are possible in your marriage with better communication. 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage provides practical action points to catapult your marriage to the next level.

Your 30 day journey begins here.

The White Water of Communication in Marriage

Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)
Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)

Fishing was fun but what happened next, I’ll never forget.

One warm summer day my dad, mom, younger sister and I went fishing at nearby MacKay reservoir. Usually we found a spot along the bank but this time we fished off the dam. I can’t remember much about the fishing, I suppose it was a lot of my dad baiting the hook with night crawlers and me casting them into the greenish water.

Not long after we started fishing a group of people came to play at the dam. They carried inner tubes and started swimming in the cool water not far from where we were fishing. I remember watching as each guy curled up inside an inner tube and rolled down the slope of the dam splashing into the water. It looked like fun and the entire group was laughing and having a great time. I’m not sure how long we attempted to fish while they splashed nearby; mostly I remember what happened next.  

One of the guys didn’t come up.

The laughing quickly turned to concern then to frantic searching in the murky water.

The next part of my memory consists mostly of the flashing red lights of the ambulance. I learned later my dad drove our truck to a nearby house to call 9-1-1. Emergency workers had difficulty finding the missing swimmer due to poor visibility. They eventually found him but he didn’t make it.

Experiences matter. Highly emotional experiences tend to hold enormous meaning throughout our lifetime. They shape us to the core and provide the backstory of our life.

To this day I’m wary of water sports. It took me a long time to realize how my experience at MacKay Reservoir affected me. I can’t even name the emotion related to the experience but my reaction has been caution. I get nervous around water and tend to be extra vigilant to ensure everyone is safe. That’s not exactly a bad thing and it didn’t really matter until my wife suggested we go white water rafting with friends.

My reaction didn’t go over very well.

My fear came out as disinterest. Ok, my reaction was probably stronger like disdain for her idea. Pro tip: never treat your spouse with disdain, it’s not healthy for connection.

The ensuing discussion was tense, my reaction was surprisingly blunt and raw. I was afraid but it was hard to describe in that moment.

My wife Hollie has a different emotional response to water sports. She had an amazing experience white water rafting in Africa. In the summer after her freshman year in college Hollie visited the country of Zambia for a two week long mission trip. During the trip her group went on a rafting trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe Africa. They put the raft in at the base of the falls excited to experience the class five rapids. The first rapid was called the boiling pot where the river makes a sharp turn. They had only been in the boat a few minutes when the raft crashed into rocks and turned over. Everyone fell out and rushed to get back in the raft to avoid the crocodiles. Even when she retells the story she can feel the adrenaline rush. Hollie loves a thrill and she remembers her trip as one of the most awesome experiences of her life. Whenever she thinks of whitewater rafting she recalls the wonderful emotion of adventure on the Zambezi.

Our experiences and our reactions to them are vastly different. A simple conversation about the idea of going rafting touched on emotions from our unique experiences. Because our experiences and emotions were so different our communication regarding the possibility of a rafting trip missed each other. I was overly annoyed at her giddiness and rather than share my fear, I was irritable.   

Writing about the drowning and my reaction to it nearly 30 years later makes it seem easy. Like I’m super aware of every emotion from every back story of my entire life. I’m not. It took me a while to unpack my reservations to sign up for the rafting trip. Slowly over many conversations with my wife and years of self reflection, I was able to see how my experiences and reactions were related to emotion.

All communication contains emotion to some degree, especially in marriage. Emotions provide meaning to the words we say. The emotions you feel and communicate come from your past experiences and how you react to them.

To communicate better with your spouse:

Identify your emotions.

The simple (but not easy) step of labeling how you feel will help you unpack your reactions and how you communicate with your spouse.

Identify the source of your emotional reaction.

It may not be clear where your emotions are coming from but often there was some type of event or situation behind your emotion. It could be as simple as having an exhausting day which fuels your curt responses to your spouse.

Many couples go off track here and miss-identify their spouse is the reason for their uncomfortable emotions. It’s often a result of lazy introspection. HINT: The source of your negative emotion is likely not your spouse. If I had incorrectly labeled Hollie as the source of my emotion, that it was her fault I felt afraid, our communication and marriage would struggle. Viewing negative emotions as external to your marriage will help you come together against the threat. Viewing negative emotions as internal to your marriage will fuel conflict and disconnection.

If interactions with your spouse have caused serious emotional pain, please get professional help to provide a safe place to heal your marriage.

Share your experience with your spouse.

Communicating about your past experiences will help to explain your current feelings and behaviors. Identifying a situation or combination of circumstances will help your spouse be more supportive and less defensive.

Engage in new experiences. 

Be open to trying new experiences and new emotions. Your fear may be valid but don’t let fear paralyze you and limit your life. I’ll try whitewater rafting, it will be scary and I’ll probably never be as comfortable with it as my wife. But when I do I’ll experience new positive emotions and my fear will diminish some.

What is your white water rafting? What scares you but seems silly to your spouse? Share your experience with your spouse. Your communication and connection in marriage will thrive when you take the risk to share vulnerable emotions. When your spouse shares their experiences and fears respond with understanding and gentle encouragement rather than judgment and shame; it will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Go Deeper.

Learn more about communication in marriage with my new course 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage.

The course is packed with my best lessons on communication formed from years of working with couples in my counseling office. 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage course contains even more information than I can cover with couples in the counseling setting.

The course is delivered to you in 30 daily emails which contain lessons specifically designed to boost your communication with your spouse. Each lesson includes an Action Point so you can immediately apply the lesson to your relationship.

Lessons Include:

  • The requirement for all communication.
  • What you see is what you get.
  • Getting comfortable with compliments.
  • How to know what your partner is thinking.
  • Reducing distractions.
  • And 25 more!

FREE BONUS: You can also receive each lesson via text message. If you are like me, you always have your phone. The text message option allows you easy access to the content on the go making it even easier to boost your communication today.

Click the link or photo to GET IT NOW

“I’m Sorry, You’ve Been Temporarily Disconnected”

guy with phone

The other day I was talking on the phone. It was a great conversation and I was chatting away until I realized the person I was talking to wasn’t there. I had no idea how long I had been talking after they were disconnected. A few seconds? Several minutes? When I realized I was only jabbering to myself I stopped. Communication cannot happen without relationship. I had to call back and get reconnected.

The same situation can happen in marriage. Married life is going fine until you realize you were disconnected somehow. Communication falters when you are physically or emotionally disconnected.

A disconnected marriage is like when you call someone and hear: BEEEEEPP! “I’m sorry, the number you are trying to reach has been temporarily disconnected.”

If you are distracted or connected to something else, like looking at your phone instead of listening to your spouse, communication doesn’t work well.

Don’t let your marriage become disconnected. Engage. Call your spouse back and get reconnected in your marriage. Temporary disconnection happens in marriage but you must commit to reconnecting for communication to work. Some couples end up talking to dead air for years without even realizing it because their connection is gone. Even the best communicators need a connection.

In marriage, communication is not about relaying only factual information, it’s mostly about relaying love. Maintaining healthy communication promotes good emotional connection. Then, emotional connection improves communication. It’s the wonderful cycle that’s guaranteed to keep you well connected in marriage. Keep the wonderful cycle going in your marriage and your communication will never feel like you’ve been jabbering to yourself.

lady with phone

2 parts of communication cover

I would like to share with you the story of Sue and Chuck and how their communication about flowers was about much more than simply flowers.

Their communication, and yours, consists of 2 main parts. First, the actual words shared, what I call logistics, and second, the meaning of the words, or the emotion the words evoke.

To learn more about Sue and Chuck and The 2 Parts of Communication get this free resource to instantly improve your communication.

Wild Style: Making Your Communication Match Your Desired Intimacy

Matching intimacy

Communication always happens within the context of relationship.

Communication needs relationships to exist and relationships need communication to survive.

Every relationship in your life is different. Each contains a different amount of shared history, vulnerability, mutual benefit, and intimacy, which all influence how and what you communicate.

The Mailman

The relationship I have with my mailman contains only of him driving to my house and putting mail in my mailbox. I respectfully keep the area in front of the mailbox clear to help make his job easier and if I happen to be outside and see him deliver the mail, I’ll give him a friendly nod or neighborly wave. The only communication we need to maintain our relationship is when I put the red flag up on the mailbox to alert him of the letter I placed there.

Communication Evangelist

Even advertising is communication in relationship. Hundreds of companies and brands communicate with me every day. We have a relationship. The best brands invest heavily into the relationship with customers by communicating the benefit of the relationship. Customers can become so loyal they view their relationship with the company as a part of their personal identity. For example, the most fanatic customers of Apple are known as Apple evangelists. Apple has built strong relationships with its customers through effective communication.

wild style

Wild Style

My son loves to talk to me about Legos. Our conversation is about the details of his “wild style motorcycle” and its multitude of guns, but we are mostly communicating about our relationship. The words are about Legos but more importantly the meaning contained in the words communicate my delight in him and his creativity, which builds our connection. I can talk about Legos with anyone. I’ve even had conversations on Twitter about Legos, but the relationship I have with people on Twitter is much different than the relationship I have with my son.

Marriage is a one of a kind relationship. Marriage contains exclusive benefits financially, sexually, and emotionally. Your communication must reflect the unique status of marriage.

  • Problems arise in marriage when communication doesn’t take into account the depth of the relationship. You cannot communicate with your spouse like they are the mailman. The lack depth will starve your connection.
  • You’re going to have problems if you treat your marriage like a business and your spouse like a commodity. Some people try to run their marriage like an exchange but often become control freaks and bankrupt the connection.
  • Parent child relationships are meaningful and precious but never treat your spouse like a child. Many marriages fall into that pattern of interaction which grossly distorts the relationship and often ends with much resentment.

Marriage is special and your marriage is unique. The level of intimacy in your relationship will reflect the level of intimacy in your communication. You must adjust the level of communication to match the level of intimacy you want in your relationship.

2 parts of communication coverI would like to share with you the story of Sue and Chuck and how their communication about flowers was much more than simply flowers.

Their communication, and yours, consists of 2 main parts. First, the actual words shared, what I call logistics, and second, the meaning of the words, or the emotion the words evoke.

To learn more about Sue and Chuck and The 2 Parts of Communication get this free resource to instantly improve your communication.