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Handling Marital Discord: Communication Breakdowns Cause Relationship Strain

(By Dr. Megha Sarin, M.Phil (Clinical Psychology), Clinical Psychologist, Manobhaav Psychological Services)

Recently I have been taking a lot of marriage counselling sessions and what struck me was that sheer lack of communication and understanding leads to a lot of complications in an otherwise healthy relationship.

In addition to this I also observed that this lack of communication often tempts the spouse to look for an understanding, supportive friend outside the marriage which makes their marriage more complicated. This often leads to emotional infidelity. All of us are clearly aware of sexual infidelity, however emotional infidelity is on the rise these days and has become a major cause of fights between couples.

Emotional infidelity refers to any situation that causes some degree of emotional unavailability on part of one partner that interferes with one particular aspect of the relationship, along with the quality of the relationship. Most often partners name this relationship as friendship however if this new relationship is leading to avoidance of your own marriage then you need to keep a serious check on it.  In simple words, if you find yourself

  1. sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with someone else to the extent of avoiding such expressions and discussion with your spouse,
  2. spending more time in the new relationship,
  3. hiding things from your partner
  4. amount of time you spend together with your partner has decreased

then this may be a signal of beginning of an emotional affair. I am not saying that friendship is bad or one shouldn’t share emotions with friends however if any relationship makes you lie to your partner and distances you from them it can become a cause of concern.

I have seen many couples on the verge of separation due to emotional infidelity, however as we proceed in our sessions something common that comes up every time is lack of communication and expression. During the course of therapy many couples realize that instead of investing time in another relationship if they invest even half amount of effort and time in their existing relationship things can be very different.

I have seen many marriages improve just by working on their communication between each other. However, before understanding the importance of communication and expression, let’s have a look at what all problems in communication can lead to relationship issues.

  1. It usually begins when we feel ignored by our spouse. Many couples walk up to me and say that they just don’t feel like communicating with their partner because he/she will never understand what they want to communicate. This may lead our partner to first change subjects and avoid the main topic or may finally lead to arguments.
  2. Eventually the partner starts feeling less connected in the marriage and may start indulging more at work or other interests so as to avoid any kind of communication or confrontation with their spouse.
  3. Then begins the third phase where one ends up sharing problems with outsiders which encourages affairs and dependence on others and further drifts one away from their marital relationship.

These errors in communication are very minor and often go unnoticed until they cause huge problems in the relationship. But, let me tell you these errors are very common as well and can be dealt with easily with some amount of effort from both sides.

A lot of times couples come to me and tell me that they want to work on their relationship for their kids, for the fear of society or for their families, but this is not why one should feel to work on their relationship. Only if you are motivated to improve things for the sake of each other, for the sake of the love that bound you together should you start working on these issues.

So now that we are ready, let’s have a look at some ways which can help in resolving such discords.

  • Improve communication – In simple words begin with simple things like greeting each other every morning, send some texts or jokes to your spouse from work like you would send to your friends, keep each other informed about your whereabouts.
  • Spend some fixed amount of time daily with each other without television, phone, tab or any other electronic devices. Remember it’s not the quantity of time but the quality of time that will help you work on things, so even if you want to start with just 15minutes do it.
  • Do not engage in confrontations. It very easy to react in every conversation but at times its good to just listen to your spouse without being reactive. This is usually very difficult to implement however it can be made by deciding on certain topics that you would not react to.
  • Resolving conflicts – When two people are in a relationship each has their individual perspective which can cause dissimilar point of views. This is the point at which conflicts frequently begin and lead to a host of negative experiences. The way in which we put across our point of views can help in resolving these negative experiences. None of us want to purposefully create misunderstandings or misconceptions in a relationship, but post a few negative interactions with your spouse you unconsciously start attributing negative meaning to whatever is said by the spouse. In simple words we starts perceiving everything they say negatively, however if step back and try to logically analyze the same situation our perception would be very different. Thus, in order to resolve conflicts in a relationship being self aware is very important. We must be able to identify the errors in our thought processes instead of always blaming our spouse, because this will help us in critically evaluating situations and control impulsive reactions. Once we start thinking clearly without coloured perceptions we will definitely be able to resolve any conflicts in a better manner. This has always worked in my sessions, when couples come to me I tell them to stop playing the blame game and focus on improving upon themselves as individuals.

 So, lets start with these basic things, even if you feel that you are the one who is putting in an extra effort to set things right do not give up as it does not make you a weaker person, it just that you value your relationship more than anything else.

Along with these basic things if you feel that you are guilty of having an emotional affair which is stopping you from engaging in these steps then you must first recover from that infatuation. Lets have a look at how that can be done


  • Be honest with your partner even though the truth may hurt for a while but its better to rebuild your relationship by being honest..
  • Emotional affairs can be very addictive as they are relatively new and they cause a sudden rush of endorphins, those late night texts, the excessive pampering all of that brings in a whole of lot of excitement in your life. However, you must take a step back to differentiate between a long term committed relationship and infatuation. Such affairs are usually infatuations and do not involve long term commitments.
  • Rebuild your relationship with your partner by reconnecting with them like you did in the past. Indulge in things that you always loved doing together. Always remember you need half the effort and time to save your existing relationship in comparison to indulging in a new relationship.
  • Emotional infidelity also causes a lot of dependence on the other person, shift your focus by increasing interaction with your friends or by indulging in other interests or hobbies.

 So, if we want a happy marriage we must try to resolve the conflicts eventually instead of letting them lie dormant and erupt like a volcano one fine day. It may take a few weeks to start improving but it will definitely lead to happily ever after ending.