Communication Spiral

Why has my partner become like a stranger?

On the surface, a partner can "become a stranger" for a lot of reasons. But underneath, it often comes down to a chronic communication problem.

The upward spiral to communion

To understand how a relationship develops, visualize a circle. One third of the circumference is labeled "communication," one third "knowledge" and one third "connection." The connection part could also be labeled "affection," "affiliation" or "bonding."

Now think back to the beginning of your present relationship or to the beginning of a past one. Remember how much you talked with each other. On the circle, that’s communication.

As the two of you talked you learned about each other. That’s knowledge. And the more you got to know each other, the more affection you felt. That’s connection. As your sense of connection built, you wanted to keep on talking with each other.

Think of the circle as transformed into an upward spiral with an ever-increasing sense of relationship each time around. I call this upward spiral, "the communion spiral," because I believe as human beings we are hardwired to seek communion with another.

Communion is based on balance. Two people are sharing and learning about each other. Without balance in communication, no real communion can be achieved. Then something happens. You begin to realize that you don’t understand each other and you are both getting upset with each other. Neither of you is happy. Then one day you feel as if you are living with a stranger.

The downward spiral to alienation

I have worked with many couples, as well as singles just out of a relationship. In the vast majority there had been interruptions in their communications – childbirth and child-rearing, career pressures, work-related travel, family deaths, moves, serious illnesses, accidents or addictions.

Any one of these life circumstances could detract or distract from communication with your partner. Most of the time you can pick up the thread and get back on track. However, a problem arises from the fact that we all change and grow. If you put communication on pause for any length of time, you get out of touch with your partner, because both of you are different from what you were even a few months ago.

It is harder to communicate, because you may be talking to your partner as he or she was five years ago, not as he or she is now. Your partner may be doing the same with you.

What you have done is reversed the spiral: lack of consistent, balanced communication has led to less knowledge of each other, which has led to weakened connection, and now even less desire to talk.

You find yourself in a downward spiral towards alienation, rather than an upward spiral towards communion. You are living with a stranger.

It is interesting that the only part of the process you have any control over is the communication. Keep it flowing and keep it balanced if you want to maintain or rebuild a deep connection with your partner.

"Helping capable people who feel stuck.” Dr. Neill Neill, Registered Psychologist, serves clients from Ladysmith to Comox in their psycho-spiritual healing and growth. Contact Dr. Neill at 250-752-8684 or Visit for other articles and a free newsletter.