Help! My Partner Is Terrible at Communicating

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

We’ve been together about a year and a half, and from the beginning we established a mutual dedication to open communication and sharing as much with one another as possible. We weren’t together very long before that started to become challenged. Let me be clear: My girlfriend doesn’t lie to me, doesn’t cheat on me, and I don’t think she even intentionally keeps things from me. She just … doesn’t readily open the doors of communication and isn’t forthcoming with her thoughts or emotions. As someone who likes to talk about my feelings frequently and has heard her say things like “the more information, the better,” I find this incredibly frustrating.

Just in the past month, we have had a significant discussion about how we agree it’s necessary to have difficult conversations, and the sooner the better when an issue or feeling comes up. And that discussion wasn’t even in reaction to any problem that had arisen—we were just positively reaffirming our dedication to such communication. But not two weeks later, she neglected to tell me about receiving a lengthy, heartfelt email from a mutual friend. It contained nothing that crossed boundaries for either of us, but was unusual and deserved attention. I heard about it from the mutual friend before I heard about it from her, however, and it took her a week for her to bring it up on her own. There was no special reason to keep it from me, she said, but she just thought maybe I already knew or she’d wait until she’d responded to let me know about it. She has also been quiet about hanging out with mutual friends when I wasn’t around, even though it’s not something I’m bothered by, and she knows that.

I’m just mystified as to why she continues to make an effort to assure me we have an understanding about mutual, honest, timely communication … and then leave me out of the loop when things happen in her life. It’s a strong disincentive to be open with her, too, and that saddens me. Is there anything we haven’t tried, or any new way I can bring this up to her that encourages her to trust me and talk to me more? —Deafening Silence

Submit Your Own Question to a Therapist

Dear Deafening,

I can just feel the intensity of your frustration—it comes through loud and clear in your letter. It sounds like you feel shut out by your girlfriend when all you want is to be deeply and profoundly connected. Beyond frustration, it seems like you feel quite hurt and maybe even alienated by your girlfriend’s lack of communication.

It sounds to me like there is a mismatch in each of your needs for communication. You seem to crave, and gain a sense of, intimacy from a high degree of communication, while your girlfriend is satisfied by a significantly lower degree of communication. Because you have stated there is no betrayal (i.e., infidelity, crossing boundaries, etc.), it doesn’t seem like the lack of communication on your girlfriend’s part is problematic in and of itself. It doesn’t seem to be rooted in trust issues. The issue seems to be the disparate needs you each have around communication.

Framing the issue as a disparate need for communication, as opposed to your girlfriend’s failure to communicate, doesn’t lay the blame at anyone’s feet. It’s just an acknowledgment you have different needs and doesn’t make anyone right or wrong.

Framing the issue as a disparate need for communication, as opposed to your girlfriend’s failure to communicate, doesn’t lay the blame at anyone’s feet. It’s just an acknowledgment you have different needs and doesn’t make anyone right or wrong. This can enable both of you to drop your defenses and try to really understand where the other person is coming from.

Much of how people communicate in intimate relationships is influenced by how they saw their parents communicate. Talking about each of your memories of your parents’ relationships might be a good place to start in trying to understand why each of you have the preferences you have around communication.

You also mentioned that your girlfriend’s lack of communication is a “strong disincentive” to be open with her. Why is that? There are hints of resentment in this statement, one of the biggest indicators there is work to be done to strengthen your relationship. However you proceed from here, I would encourage you not to let your girlfriend’s communication style dictate yours—especially since you both have expressed “the more, the better” when it comes to sharing.

You two might also find great value in working with a couples therapist on this issue. A therapist will likely be able to help you two understand each other on a much deeper level. This understanding could lead to a true sense of empathy for each other and quite possibly some movement toward the middle that could work for both of you.

Kindly,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • 3 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Beth P.

    Beth P.

    March 31st, 2017 at 12:32 PM

    I have to wonder if there is something that has happened in the past that keeps her from fulfilling that commitment to open and honest communication. It could be something very small or it could be something very large that is holding her back and keeping her open to you. It might feel deceptive but in truth there could be something so much more harsh going on. I say don’t shut it down just yet, Find out what is really at the bottom of this kind of behavior.

  • Liam

    Liam

    April 3rd, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    Don’t let this become a tit for tat sort of thing, like she avoids telling you something so you do the same back to her. Maybe she feels uncomfortable for some reason that she hasn’t opened up about yet. I don’t think that that is at all wrong, some people just need a little more time with that.

  • Bennett

    Bennett

    April 25th, 2017 at 2:55 PM

    My parents got divorced over this very thing.
    My mom would claim that my dad would always clam up when it came to hashing out the important stuff but I don’t think that she ever saw that she would contribute to that by really not giving him that much opportunity to share what he was thinking.
    She wanted thoughts instantly and he was more of a brooder. I just don’t think that their communication styles were compatible with one another at all, and ultimately that is what did them in.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.