Why do so many relationships fail? Basically it boils down to bad relationship communication. So we've broken it down for you to the basics of good communication and how to get what you want from a relationship.
Good communication is at the core of all healthy relationships. This is something that most people I know agree with. In fact, I’m convinced that if we don’t have healthy communication, then we don’t really have a relationship. But what does good and healthy communication look like? How do we go into a relationship, maintain that connection, then separate in a healthy and functional way if we find we’re not compatible?
Recently, I attended an event focused on communication in intimate relationships. There were several of us there and the first thing we did was come up with a list of things necessary for healthy relationship communication. The list included being direct, honesty, not taking things personally when receiving feedback, transparency, vulnerability, active listening, empathy, using ‘I’ statements, validating your partner’s feelings, ask—don’t assume, having healthy boundaries, and the list went on.
Getting to Know Someone
For every dating site or in-person meeting I take part in, I find some people aren’t honest or direct a lot of the time. They want to show the person they’re getting to know who they wish they were, but not who they actually are. If we go into relationships by misrepresenting ourselves, it is a sure way to fail. The moment the person you’re getting to know discovers they’ve been lied to—even if it’s wishful thinking and not outright lies—that person is going to feel betrayed and the relationship is already in jeopardy.
Self-awareness is key in the beginning (and all the way through too). We need to know what we want and who we are. There are times when we think we’re one way and were not. By being self-aware, we can avoid poor communication.
When getting to know a new partner, be you. Be direct. Be honest. Be self-aware. If we follow these guidelines, we’ll be off to a great start. Go into the relationship with good intent and lay the foundation for a healthier relationship to follow.
Good Communication While in the Relationship
Once you’re in the relationship, you’re bound to run into issues. We are human after all and we all have things we need to work on. This is the phase where active listening, more honesty, ‘I’ statements, and a lot of the items I listed above show up. To illustrate, I’m going to give an example that really impacted me. I’m going to cover what happened in a non-detailed way to keep it relatable for readers, then discuss how my partner and I resolved the situation by communicating properly (which is the most important part).
My partner and I hadn’t discussed an aspect of our relationship. We’d briefly touched on it, but hadn’t taken part in direct communication. This was despite our knowledge of healthy communication and taking part in the practice consistently. On this one topic, we’d just skipped over it.
I was under the impression things were one way, he was under the impression they were another, and I ended up getting hurt. I felt betrayed. My instincts were to jump to accusations, basing my beliefs on assumptions. As in, “He lied to me! He’s manipulating me!” But I knew better than to trust those assumptions. There was far more complexity to this situation (as I have Complex PTSD and have been betrayed horribly by others), but I knew from all my studies and actively taking part in proper/healthy communication that I needed to talk to him.
I started with 'I' statements. As in ‘I feel’ rather than ‘you did this’. I shared how I was feeling betrayed and showed him my vulnerability by crying and being honest with how much the situation had hurt me, and then I talked about the feelings. The ‘I’ statements are important because they focus on how the speaker is feeling as opposed to jumping to ‘you’ statements that carry blame. While the word ‘you’ might need to be used, it’s never the right place to start. Especially if you’re adding name-calling to it. Stay away from name-calling at all times.
Feelings are feelings. They can be completely unreliable and totally irrational. Just because I was feeling betrayed didn’t mean I was. I was feeling sad, and that made sense because I was hurting. But tying feelings to assumptions is where we have to watch ourselves. I still told him I was feeling hurt and betrayed, but by saying I felt that way as opposed to ‘you betrayed me’ made a huge difference.
When he heard my tone and realized that something had gone awry, he didn’t start by taking things personally and getting defensive. Instead, he told me he was sorry I was hurting. That it wasn’t his intent. We discussed my feelings, he validated me by saying he understood how I could’ve felt betrayed in that situation, and he had empathy for me and my pain. Even though what happened was a misunderstanding based off of unclear communication to begin with, he didn’t defend his actions. He simply said he was sorry.
His response made me feel loved and cared for, and I was able to take a look at the entire picture and see that it really was an accident. He hadn’t meant to hurt me. Then I was able to see how I had not communicated affectively to begin with either. Otherwise we would’ve had a clear understanding of expectations and the situation wouldn’t have happened. So I apologized too. We both learned from it, grew, and know to address these things in the future.
This same situation in another of my relationships led to a failed relationship. That partner and I didn’t communicate effectively. The manner in which we handle things makes a difference in the outcome.
Healthy communication takes work and no matter how hard we try, we will all run into issues. We’ll face hurt feelings, have fights and misunderstandings, because we are all human and imperfect. Communication is about being open, actively listening, and dropping our pride when we are told harsh truths about ourselves. It’s about honesty, but honesty with empathy. The point is to grow together, not apart.
When Relationships Fail
One of the things I find frustrating about ending relationships is that there seems to be no nice way to do it. Some people want to breakup over the phone, others want to text, some want in-person breakups, and it seems to each their own.
While I’m a huge fan of good communication—even during breakups—at times it can be hard if the other party is refusing to take part. This means we have to use discernment and decide what’s right with that person in that moment.
Recently, I saw a man ask if it’s okay to break up with his girlfriend via text. He asked in an online forum, and people jumped on him. Told him that was cowardice. To do it in person. What they failed to ask was why he wanted to break up that way. Was she hostile? Would she overreact and accuse? These were vital components to answering the man’s question and no one thought to ask. If you find yourself needing to break up with someone, ask yourself what the safest, most respectful, and most responsible choice is. Sometimes a text of, “Don’t contact me again,” is the right thing to do.
And it’s okay to give details should you choose to. But remember to be honest, use empathy, and be direct. One of the hardest things to do is break up with people that have poor boundaries. If one of the issues has been that person crossing your boundaries, it will be important to be very firm and clear in your communication. Sometimes simply saying, “We’re not compatible,” is all you need.
Also, understanding that caring for others is equally as important as self-care. All parties matter and all parties should have the chance to be heard.
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