Have you ever found yourself wondering why your husband or boyfriend can’t communicate well? Odds are that you have, and that’s completely normal. The fact is that communication is hard for people of all genders. This is especially true in romantic relationships where emotional vulnerability and communication are intertwined with jobs, kids, illness, and the everyday stressors of life.
And while everyone sometimes struggles with relationship communication, stereotypes tell us that men—more than anyone else—have difficulty expressing themselves. Is there any truth to these stereotypes? If so, why do men find it difficult to communicate? And perhaps most importantly, is there a solution to lack of communication in a marriage or relationship—regardless of who is struggling? We explore these questions below.
Why Do Men Struggle to Talk About Their Feelings?
Some men do find it difficult to talk openly about how they feel; while the reasons why are vast and complex, alexithymia and gender norms around masculinity may play a role.
- Alexithymia is the term used to describe those individuals who find it challenging to understand, process, and share their feelings and emotions. And while anyone can deal with this, it is more common among men. In fact, the term normative male alexithymia is a specific subclass of alexithymia where boys and men have difficulty expressing emotion—largely because of societal expectations.
- Gender norms and cultural expectations around masculinity may also play a role in why some men struggle to communicate. Especially in the United States and in other western European countries, women are often expected to show a greater range of emotions than men. Meanwhile, male emotional suppression is a relatively common cultural norm.
With that said, anyone—of any gender—may find it difficult to communicate and express themselves for any number of reasons. Whether you’re working through communication difficulties on your own or with the help of a licensed couples therapist, it’s typically more helpful to get to the root cause of the issue rather than jumping to stereotypes about male vs female communication in relationships. In the rest of this article, we’ll explore themes around why anyone may struggle with relationship communication and what to do about it.
What Causes Lack of Communication in a Relationship?
There are several reasons why communication breaks down in a relationship, and some of the most common include stress, poor listening skills, unhealthy communication patterns, and a lack of trust or intimacy.
- Life Stressors: Sometimes, a lack of communication or poor communication is attributed to stress. If you and your partner are busy with work, kids, and other emotionally-draining responsibilities, it becomes easy to de-prioritize communication.
- Poor Listening Skills: If you or your partner doesn’t feel validated and heard, it may result in misunderstanding or frustration. These issues can cause communication to break down.
- Unhealthy Communication: Damaging kinds of communication, like criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling may cause you or your partner to become hesitant to communicate.
- Lack of Trust or Intimacy: Trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and transparency are hallmarks of a good relationship. When one or more of these disappears, communication may become strained.
Fortunately, it’s more than possible to improve you and your partner’s communication. With dedication and the right strategies, your relationship can flourish and become stronger than ever.
What to Do When You Can’t Communicate With Your Partner
When you’re struggling to communicate in your relationship, it’s critical to recognize the issues that you and your partner are facing so you can intentionally work toward improvement. The following tips and strategies can help you on your journey toward healthy, open communication with one another.
- Be Honest and Vulnerable: These are some of the most important aspects of a relationship. When you and your partner communicate, practice honesty and vulnerability. Not only does this enable you both to better understand the struggles and concerns you’re facing, but it builds trust and intimacy.
- Practice Active Listening: As you’re communicating with your partner, practice active listening. Make a dedicated effort to truly hear what they are saying. Avoid interrupting them or thinking through your responses as they speak. Simply listen in the moment. Some couples find reflective listening useful, which is when you repeat what your partner has said back to them, in your own words.
- Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations: What do you expect of your partner, and what boundaries are important to each of you? You can discuss overall expectations and boundaries in your relationship as well as those that are specific to communication. Communicating clearly and honestly about these can help avoid frustration and misunderstandings, especially during tense discussions.
- Check In With Each Other: While scheduling a check-in may seem silly, setting aside time to see how the other person is doing, identify any concerns, and just talk about your relationship is important. This process allows you to dedicate time toward growing your partnership, and it can reduce the possibility of built-up tension or resentment.
- Attend Couples Therapy: We all need help sometimes, and even the strongest relationships benefit from talking to a professional. At Well Marriage Center, our licensed therapists are experts in relationship communication. They work with couples to identify communication blockers and healthy ways to move forward.
Well Marriage Center: Building Bridges to Better Communication
Relationships are hard work, and when communication breaks down—for whatever reason—the path forward can feel rocky at best. But that’s where our counselors at Well Marriage Center can help. Our team practices a marriage-positive, strengths-based approach to counseling to help you and your partner create a path toward a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
At Well Marriage Center, we offer in-person and virtual counseling for couples looking to improve their communication and rejuvenate their relationship. Reach out today to get started.