– Was it always this difficult to communicate?
– Of course not, you have to know someone very well to have this much trouble.
— Gish Jen, The Love Wife
It is normal for any couple to go through some rough spots. So it is usually not appropriate to worry about a single, isolated incident. But it makes sense to pay attention to some patterns which, if left unattended, will usually get worse.
– Conflict (too little or too much)
If you’re constantly arguing… If even small things lead to big arguments… If the same issues keep coming back again and again… these are obviously danger signals that have to be addressed.
But this doesn’t mean that an apparent lack of conflict is a good sign. If the two of you are afraid of conflict, and sweep things under the rug to avoid dealing with difficult things, this does not bode well for the future. A healthy relationship is one where you can squarely deal with conflict and find ways to resolve it.
It can be one person repeatedly criticizing the other, giving the message that “you can’t do anything right” (including “the way you dress”, “the way you talk”, etc..).
It can also be a “blame game” where each of you points the finger at the other (with each of you feeling amply justified because, “objectively”, your partner is “so wrong”. Or you have the sense that, of course, blaming is not right, but you only do it because the other person “started it”.
– Lack of quality time together
You just can’t seem to find time to do things together. There’s work, the kids, friends, other obligations, so it seems that there are objective reasons this is happening. The point is, if you don’t make it a priority to spend quality time together, it is very likely that you will feel less and less close to each other, and will have even less incentive to find ways to spend time together.
A variation on this is that you seem to spend a lot of time together, but you rarely if ever talk about anything meaningful. This “avoidant silence” is very different from “companionable silence” (those special moments with a very intimate sense of not needing to talk for the two of you to feel very close).
– Lack of intimacy
“Intimacy” is not just a code word to avoid directly referring to sex. It also refers to emotional intimacy (a sense of feeling close and open) and to physical affection (e.g. affectionate touching). If the two of you go a long time without these, chances are you’re going to feel more and more emotionally distant from each other.
If you haven’t been intimate for a while, or have any of the above problems, it’s probably a good idea start talking about what’s happening in order to start rebuilding trust.
Photo: Etienne Boulanger / Unsplash