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Why Doesn’t My Boyfriend Communicate?

Cain Parish

In This Article:

If you’ve ever asked yourself why your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t communicate with you, this article should help you answer that question. In the rest of this article, you’ll learn how we learn to communicate, why we are the way we are, and what to do about it. This should give you everything you need to solve a communication breakdown inside your relationship. Let’s get started.

Man and woman, stylised, look away from each other sadly, representing a lack of communication

Introduction

This is an article designed with a single purpose in mind:

To explain exactly why and how two people that might love each other with all their heart may be having trouble communicating.

The short answer is that it depends. A lot.

The long answer is that people come from different backgrounds, with different skills. We all understand how to communicate differently, and juggle our priorities accordingly. The way you were taught to communicate isn’t the same as your partners, and those differences can be some of the biggest friction you’ll ever experience in your life together.

For example, the way I learned to communicate was tip-toeing around my parents. I was a timid kid, someone that struggled to express myself. For someone like me, we pay attention to every little signal and cue that a person gives off. That informs how we communicate, what we feel a need to express and the things we feel are important.

Someone that grew up differently won’t have that same background. Maybe they’ll be less neurotic, or find certain things less important. Like I said, it’s the differences that create our individuality.


Foundations of Communication

Communication is more than just words. It involves expressing emotions, decoding non-verbal cues, and understanding underlying sentiments. For instance, a simple sentence like “I’m fine” can be loaded with various emotions depending on its tone, context, and the person’s body language. To truly understand the essence of communication, it’s crucial to recognize its multifaceted nature.

In relationships, effective communication fosters trust and intimacy. For example, consider Sarah and John. They’ve been dating for six months, and Sarah feels John is distant. Instead of expressing her concerns, she assumes he’s losing interest. John, on the other hand, is under work stress but doesn’t want to burden Sarah. Their lack of communication can lead to assumptions, creating a rift.

Effective communication minimises assumptions. Every time you assume something about the other person, it’s gambling on your understanding of what they’re saying. In a perfect world, we’d never have to do that at all. But unfortunately, people aren’t always literal. We say things in crafty and devious ways without being totally straightforward. This requires our partners to take the gamble on what they think we mean, rather than simply sharing what we ACTUALLY meant.

We often forget that the goal of communication is to take information from our heads and put it into the other person’s. Sometimes we share just to vent or get things off our chest, but inside a relationship, when the stakes are high and we care about the result, we need to consider how to speak our partner’s language if we want any chance of successfully reaching our partner with our words and actions.

If you don’t believe that every person uses their own language, think about the example from earlier. Think about how many different things could be meant by someone simply saying “I’m fine”. Context is key, and knowing a person as well as you’d expect to know your partner helps a lot in decoding what the subtext of the conversation is.


Exploring Communication Styles

At this point, you’re either in one of two positions. You already intuitively understand everything on this page, because you’re an emotionally intelligent person with experience talking about your feelings. If that’s the case, you’re here because your partner isn’t like that and you want to know how to help them get better at it. Use the rest of this article as a jumping off point for explaining the whole issue to them. Take a hint and try some good old fashioned honest, literal communication, with the references and models I’m providing here.

Alternatively, you’re not used to strong communication and you’re here looking for explanations to stuff that doesn’t make sense to you. The rest of this article should be a really solid primer for how communication styles arise and evolve over time, and why the two of you aren’t talking like you want to. For additional learning, you can check out what Good Communication looks like.

All of the different ways we individually communicate can be divided into something called communication styles. As you might guess, they’re broad descriptions of how we go about expressing ourselves. These are good for breaking down the concept before we dive into the nuances.

  1. Passive: Those who adopt this style often suppress their feelings. Imagine a scenario where Anna wants to spend more time with her partner but never vocalizes it. Instead, she quietly resents the time he spends on other activities. This obviously doesn’t achieve anything. Expecting your partner to read your mind is ridiculous.
  2. Aggressive: Mark frequently demeans his partner’s opinions, asserting that his perspective is the only valid one. This behaviour stems from an aggressive communication style, leading to a power imbalance in the relationship. Partners that accept this style of communication are usually used to being bullied or minimised. You want to make sure you’re not guilty of this.
  3. Passive-Aggressive: Amber makes snide comments on things she wishes her partner, Chen, would fix. Rather than tackle the issue head-on, she expresses her disapproval with complaints and roundabout comments, hoping Chen takes the hint and fixes something. Passive-aggressive people are more likely to hurt their partner’s feelings with their moody comments than they are to fix anything.
  4. Deflective: Lucy agrees with everything her partner says but later vents her frustrations to her friends. This indirect approach can create confusion and mistrust. It might feel better to delay conflict and avoid the problem, but having people agree with your perspective whilst your partner remains unknowing only builds resentment.
  5. Assertive: The golden middle path. Alex expresses his concerns about their finances to his partner, but he does so with respect and understanding, ensuring a productive conversation. It’s important to understand the difference between assertion and aggression. Just because you’re being straightforward and not beating around the bush doesn’t mean you have to be hostile or combative.

Recognizing these styles can illuminate the roots of many of your relationship challenges.


Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a cornerstone of effective communication. It’s a really complicated topic, and a hard skill to develop and practice, but here are some of the core components that many people think of when they discuss the topic.

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions. If Mike feels jealous when his partner talks to her male friends but never acknowledges this emotion, it can fester. Working with therapists or other professionals can help you acknowledge your patterns and start to develop your ability to self-analyse.
  • Self-regulation: Once you recognise something like an impulse or an emotion, you have more power over it. Regulating yourself comes down to understanding your patterns and making conscious choices to be different, until you form a new habit.
  • Empathy: Empathy could be a whole article on its own, but the key takeaway should be developing logical empathy. As with any other skill, it takes practice, but much of what is important is to be able to get into the head of your partner and see the world as they see it. Be wary of making assumptions as we discussed earlier, but the better you understand your partner’s point of view, the easier it will be to speak their language.
  • Social Skills: Plain and simply, being more emotionally intelligent gives you better social skills. The better you can talk to your partner, the higher your chances of successful communication.

A partner with low EI might struggle to navigate these facets of their own emotional landscape, as well as yours. This is where many problems stem from, where one partner feels misunderstood or that their partner isn’t paying attention. They may in fact just have an underdeveloped emotional intelligence.


Factors that Lead to Misunderstandings

Beyond styles and EI, other elements can hinder communication. Here are various principles that play into communication breakdowns.

  • Lack of Emotional Vocabulary: Consider Tom, who feels overwhelmed but only expresses anger because he lacks the words to convey his actual feelings.
  • Past Traumas: Emily’s previous partner used to dismiss her opinions. Now, with her new partner, she hesitates to voice her thoughts, fearing a similar reaction. This is a big one. A good chunk of people are carrying their past experiences into their present relationships. The issue with traumatic events is that very often, the traumatised individual is discouraged from speaking about the problem by the person that traumatised them. This is something to try your best to discourage as a habit.
  • Differing Love Languages: Jake loves giving gifts, but his partner, Mia, values quality time. Jake feels unappreciated when Mia doesn’t react enthusiastically to his gifts, not realizing her primary love language is different. Love languages are a simple, but effective example of two people communicating in their own way past one another. Trying to reconcile on a mutual love language or demonstrating appreciation for your partner’s gestures regardless is the key here.
  • Fear of Vulnerability: Sharing deep fears or dreams requires vulnerability. If either partner fears being vulnerable, they might hold back. This is obviously antithetical to solid communication.
  • Struggles With Self-Worth: People that find themselves struggling with self-image or unconvinced of their own value often project those issues in strange and seemingly unrelated ways.

The key takeaway here is to understand that breakdowns in communication often stem from a mismatch between you and your partner. It can be something as simple as your love languages or as deep as a disconnect in childhood traumatic experiences.

For example, picture a deeply troubled boyfriend that has struggled with validation and insecurity his whole life. His partner is a tomboy, a self-assured girl from a rural background that left her mostly ignorant to topics of mental health and nuances of emotion.

These people are likely to communicate in very different ways. The boy will have techniques and processes learnt from therapy and trauma alike, many of which will seem foreign or silly to someone without a similar background. The simplistic nature of his girlfriend’s communication might annoy the boyfriend. To reach a resolution, they both have to acknowledge and overcome those differences, either learning to meet in the middle or appreciate the other’s style for what it is.


Finding A Solution

So finally, we come to the practical advice section. Now that you have an understanding of how these issues develop, let’s talk about resolution. Better communication is achievable. Here’s how:

Step 1: Set up your foundations. Encourage your ability to talk in a relaxed, playful manner. Setting out to have an emotional conversation shouldn’t feel unnatural or like a chore. You want to encourage both partners to feel equally comfortable and happy to be sharing thoughts and feelings in a way they deem appropriate.

Step 2: Get Everyone On Board Relationships aren’t 50-50, They’re 100-100. Whilst the ratio is the same, that metaphor shows off how much effort a relationship should take. If your partner is going to bring up something as deeply concerning as poor communication, everyone in the relationship needs to be 100% committed to a solution. Habits don’t change overnight, but even the most dejected partners should perk up if they see even a hint of potential change. Do your best to give what you can to your partner, and understand that neither of you are perfect, but you are both trying.

Step 3: Diagnose Your Differences. As we’ve discovered above, there are dozens of potential reasons as to why two people might miscommunicate. You can fundamentally disagree on important definitions, like what cheating looks like or what to call the stage of relationship you’re in. You can have different preferences for things like quality time or organisation. Any difference that creates friction between the two of you is fair game. Acknowledge it with your partner, bring it into the open, and make sure both of you understand it.

Step 4: Make A Plan One or both of you brought this conversation up because it bothered you. That means, that somewhere, deep down, a need has not been met or a boundary has been crossed. That isn’t something to sweep under the rug. If that problem isn’t resolved, your relationship is in more turmoil than it needs. As part of remedying that issue, you can create a plan with your partner. Give them room to fix their mistakes or do better next time, whilst setting firm boundaries and limits for what you will and won’t tolerate. Ultimatums are bad. Being literal and clear with your boundaries is good.

Step 5: Come Up For Air It’s likely that these conversations are dense and emotionally taxing, for both of you. It’s worth taking time afterwards to be playful again and enjoy each others’ company. Reassuring each other that you can have hard conversations and still be intimate and affectionate afterwards goes a long way to build security and trust.

Step 6: Follow Up Hopefully, you can work together with your partner to build emotional intelligence and understanding of each other. If everyone is willing and able to put the work in, things should get better with time. It’s important to keep this conversation going. Don’t think the issue is solved just because you had a single conversation.

Keep on your partner and help them understand when they hit another snag. Teach them instead of criticise. Say things like “That’s a good example of what we were talking about”, referencing specifics, instead of condemning their language or behaviour. Instead of saying “You never listen,” say “I feel unheard when you’re on your phone during our conversations.”

Step 7: Re-Assess If things get better, fantastic. If they don’t, it’s time to think about what to do. Something as fundamental as communication can be a dealbreaker for a lot of people. Without being able to come to compromises and solve problems together, a relationship is much more likely to struggle. Whilst being there for your partner is important, there is a limit to how much you realistically can take. Some people are genuinely just incompatible in these ways, and it’s up to you to decide how much that means to you.

To sum up, it really is just about getting practice in having important conversations. As long as everyone has the best of intentions, cares about improving for their partner, and is willing to practice skills like emotional intelligence and communication, these seven steps should set you up for success.

F.A.Q.s

What do partners struggle to communicate?

Usually, it’s emotions. We find it really difficult to confront complex or uncomfortable emotions. Being in the moment, heated and annoyed, makes it really difficult to stop and discuss what went wrong. It’s why most people find other ways to cope, like defensive mechanisms (i.e. just leaving/running away).


How can I encourage my partner to communicate?

Show some sort of positive example. Be the bigger person for as much as you can stand it – demonstrate what type of communication you’d prefer inside your relationship, and try not to let them get away with underperforming. It can often be like having an employee – you have to show them what works, encourage good performance and warn about bad.


Why does my boyfriend struggle to communicate with me?

We struggle to express ourselves at the best of times. Everything in life, but especially emotions, are very vulnerable and sensitive to rejection. Our entire psychology is dedicated to preventing ourselves from harm and reducing our risk of danger. Our emotions are no different. We close off and pull away from conflict or messy emotional conversations. It’s natural. We just have to practice ignoring the instinct.

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About

Cain Parish

Cain Parish is the owner of cainparish.com. A prolific writer, educator and relationship coach since 2019, he specializes in dating, relationships, emotional intelligence and social skills. He is also the author and creator of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for dating and relationship advice, which can be found on his website. His first book, I’m Sorry I Egged Your House, is due to be published in 2024.

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