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Understanding Different Communication Styles in Relationships and Overcoming Barriers

Effective communication is the cornerstone of healthy relationships, particularly in couples. However, not all communication styles are the same, and differences in how partners express themselves can lead to significant barriers in understanding and connection. In this blog post, we'll explore various communication styles, delve into the potential obstacles they may pose in relationships, and offer research-backed strategies to overcome these barriers.

Communication Styles

1. Direct vs. Indirect Communication

  • Direct communicators tend to express their thoughts and feelings openly, while indirect communicators may use subtle hints or non-verbal cues. These differences can lead to misunderstandings if one partner expects directness while the other prefers subtlety.

  • Research by Gudykunst and Nishida (2001) suggests that individuals from different cultural backgrounds may exhibit varying degrees of directness, which can affect their communication styles in relationships.

2. Assertive vs. Passive Communication

  • Assertive communicators express their needs and feelings clearly and respectfully, whereas passive communicators may avoid confrontation and suppress their emotions. This contrast can result in unmet needs and unresolved conflicts.

  • In a study by Leary, Kowalski, and Jenkins (2003), assertive communication was associated with higher relationship satisfaction and fewer conflicts.

3. Aggressive vs. Non-Aggressive Communication

  • Aggressive communicators tend to express their feelings forcefully, often resorting to blaming and shouting. Non-aggressive communicators, on the other hand, strive to maintain a calm and empathetic tone. These differences can lead to heated arguments and emotional disconnection.

  • A study by Gottman and Levenson (2000) found that aggressive communication patterns were predictive of future divorce, emphasizing the importance of addressing this issue.

4. Listening Styles

  • Some individuals are active listeners, engaging fully in the conversation and showing empathy, while others may be passive listeners, offering minimal feedback. This variance can create frustration and feelings of being unheard.

  • A study by Dindia and Canary (2006) explored listening styles in romantic relationships and highlighted how active listening positively influenced relationship satisfaction.

Barriers Arising from Different Communication Styles

1. Misinterpretation of Intentions

  • Partners with contrasting communication styles may often misinterpret each other's intentions. For example, a direct communicator may perceive an indirect communicator as being vague or dishonest, leading to trust issues.

2. Emotional Disconnect

  • Couples with divergent assertiveness levels might struggle to express their emotions adequately. Passive individuals may suppress their feelings, leading to emotional disconnect and unresolved issues.

3. Conflict Escalation

  • Aggressive communication styles can quickly escalate conflicts, turning minor disagreements into major disputes. This can erode trust and emotional safety in the relationship.

4. Feeling Unheard

  • Differences in listening styles may result in one partner feeling unheard or dismissed, leading to frustration and resentment.

Overcoming Communication Style Barriers

1. Self-awareness

  • Both partners should reflect on their communication styles and understand their own tendencies. This self-awareness can help them recognize when their styles clash and be more receptive to their partner's perspective.

2. Open and Honest Dialogue

  • Encourage open and honest conversations about communication styles. Discuss preferences, expectations, and areas of improvement in a non-judgmental manner.

3. Empathy and Active Listening

  • Practice empathy by trying to understand your partner's perspective. Active listening, as mentioned earlier, can significantly improve communication and relationship satisfaction.

4. Seek Professional Help

  • When communication barriers persist and negatively impact the relationship, seeking the assistance of a qualified therapist, like those at Cognitive Resilience Counselling Clinic, can provide valuable guidance and tools for improving communication.


Different communication styles are a common source of tension in relationships, but they need not be insurmountable obstacles. By fostering self-awareness, open dialogue, empathy, and active listening, couples can bridge the gap between their communication styles and build stronger, more resilient connections.

Talk to Shaila, Olivia, or Katie if you are experiencing conflict in your relationship and think that communication styles may be different. Lets help you and your partner get on the same page.


  1. Gudykunst, W. B., & Nishida, T. (2001). Bridging differences: Effective intergroup communication (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.

  2. Leary, M. R., Kowalski, R. M., & Jenkins, S. R. (2003). Self-presentation: Expression of the self and impression management. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 492-518). Guilford Press.

  3. Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2000). The timing of divorce: Predicting when a couple will divorce over a 14-year period. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(3), 737-745.

  4. Dindia, K., & Canary, D. J. (2006). Sex differences and similarities in communication. Psychology Press.



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