Marriage & Relationship Counseling

Communication Counseling for Couples: Information on Communication Problems and Tips for Improving Communication Between Spouses


Tom and Sara each stood in the foyer or two very different restaurants waiting for one another.  They had planned on going to lunch together, but just assumed the other would know where to go.  This sort of thing always seemed to happen.

When Melanie cried to her husband, “It’s terrible here! You are never in this house, and you have no idea what it is like to be here all alone!” Bill thought her complaints were because she was dissatisfied with the house, and he resented it because he worked hard to provide what he could.  Melanie meant to communicate that she wants him to spend more time with her at home, but Bill never got the message.

When Rita withdraws, John badgers her to open up.  As a result, she ends up withdrawing even further.  Eventually, they both end up losing their tempers, and inevitably, when John starts yelling, Rita leaves the house for her mother’s.  The cycle is getting old.


According to some marital experts, communication problems are a source of trouble for nearly 90 percent of all couples that seek counseling.

Even during heartfelt talks or serious discussions, couples may completely confuse one another.

Encouraging and effective communication holds major potential for enhancing the intimacy of a marriage.

The human communication process can better understood and analyzed by breaking it down into five basic parts:  (1) A message from an individual or group that is (2) sent in written or verbal from to (3) another individual or group that (4) receives the message and (5) understands the meaning of the message in a particular way.

Perfect communication occurs when the receiver of the message understands the intended meaning of the message sent exactly and in full.

Imperfect communication occurs when there are distractions or misunderstandings at any point in the five-part process.  For example, the message constructed might not be a good representation of the intended meaning of the sender, the message may be sent poorly or incompletely, the receiver of the message might not be listening well, or the understanding of the message could be clouded by the emotional, historical, gender, or value filters of the receiver.


There are many ways to better the quality of one’s communication.  Empathy, genuineness and respect are critical to improving communication in marriage.  The following are some other techniques and suggestions for improving communication between spouses:

  1. More time talking.  Many couples spend only minutes of their day in meaningful conversation with one another mostly due to lack of time.  Some spouses attribute this lack of time to being overloaded with commitments and responsibilities.  In this case, couples need to examine all of their commitments to determine what their current priorities are and what they should be.  Another problem is that couples don’t make the time for communication with one another.  They fill the time they should spend talking to their spouse with television, phone calls, shopping, friends, and other activities. Finally there are the couples that shut their partners off out of anger or bitterness.  In this situation, by not talking these couples are doing themselves and their marriage nothing but harm.
  2. Be wary of non-verbal communications.  Even without words, spouses are constantly sending positive and negative messages to one another.  As a result, it is important for coupled to be aware of and to gain control of their negative communications.  Married couples must always make every attempt to keep their communication and intentions clear.
  3. End bad communication strategies.  There are four major types of unhealthy communication strategies that every couple should do their best to avoid.  They include the following:
    1. Criticism.  Criticism can be thought of as a global complaint and at times can take the form of a question implying a certain flaw in character.
    2. Defensiveness.  Upon receiving criticism, it’s often second nature to respond with counter-criticism or “whoa is me” attitude.  Both of these are forms of defensiveness.
    3. Contempt.  Contempt occurs when criticism and defensiveness are taken to the next level.  It can include put-downs, derogatory comments, or extreme disrespect.
    4. Stonewalling.  Stonewalling occurs when the intensity of a conversation gets too strong for an individual to handle and they simply decide to shut down or no longer participate in the conversation.  It can include physically leaving a room or just staring off into space.

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(Portions of the above material is reprinted with permission from Thrive Boston Counseling in Boston, MA.)

(Portions of the above material is reprinted with permission from Thrive Boston Counseling in Boston, MA.)

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