Relationships never exist by themselves in a vacuum. When two emotional beings come together, they bring their own past experiences and expectations. Over time these expectations can strain a relationship and you may feel like your partner doesn’t care because they don’t act the way you think they should.
It can sound like relationships will inevitably deteriorate, but in the corner for relationships is communication. And it is one of the most critical elements in understanding the each other and harmonizing your expectations.
Signs you need to improve communication
No matter how long you have been together, even small misunderstandings become mountains when your communication is deficient. Ineffective communication will cause partners to fire insults, retreat from the situation and even emotionally detach from each other.[
What are indicators that you are struggling with communication in your relationship? Consider the following signs:
- You are having trouble getting through to your spouse; you talk about the same issue over and over again without coming to an agreement.
- You seem unable to have a decent conversation without turning it into an argument.
- You fear to bring up certain topics.
- You do not talk meaningfully about anything anymore.
What effective communication really means
The most common myth about communication in relationships is that since you talk to your partner, and you share the same space a lot of the time, you automatically communicate.
Communication is much more than talking and hearing what the other person is saying. It is paying attention, getting your point across clearly, understanding your partner, validating their perspective and getting through to each other in a constructive way.
Also, what do you talk about? If it is always the ‘surfacy topics: ‘How are the kids?’ ‘How is your work?’ ‘How is your mother?’ You are not really communicating.
Effective communication is tough on the issue but soft on the person.
In every communication situation, there are two elements present: Your partner and the issue you are addressing. When you communicate effectively, you are able to be soft on your partner and tough on the issue.
How to improve communication in your relationships
Communication will either make or break your relationship. You can improve your relationship today, right now by practicing some of the following strategies of effective communication:
1. Just do it: Communicate!
We are so busy working, checking homework, making dinner, drawing strategic plans… who has the time to talk and tell their partner exactly what is on their mind?
Also, sometimes, even when we have the time, we do not want to open up that can of worms. It is difficult to discuss some subjects, and we are tempted to avoid them. Shutting down your feelings becomes more appealing than having a heated discussion.
Other times we simply expect our partners to know what we are doing, thinking or what we want.
The risk with these approaches is that the tension will continue building and eventually one of you will snap. It is much better to get things out in the open regularly rather than waiting to have big rows that might damage your relationship.
So the first strategy on communication is simple: try it (even when it seems tough, not the right time or not important).
2. Listen actively
One of the most critical aspects of communication is listening. Most times, communication between couple entails each partner trying to get their point across.
Effective communication demands that you become a good listener. What is more, active listening is much more than being quiet.
Listening is a skill that calls for you to develop a genuine interest in your partner. Be curious about your partner’s point of view rather than trying to anticipate every situation.
Active listening involves:[
- Paying attention to your partner.
- Tolerating your silence.
- Paying attention to your partner’s nonverbal communication.
- Reflecting and paraphrasing what your partner is saying: I hear you say you feel angry when I ……….. Is that what you are saying?
- Daydreaming and thinking about other things while your partner is talking.
- Thinking of what you will say next.
- Judging what your partner is saying.
- Listening with another objective other than to understand your partner.
3. Pay attention to your non-verbal behavior
A study revealed that nonverbal communication accounts for 55 percent of how you and your partner understand your message.[ Communication is much more than what you say. In addition to words, you also communicate through:
- Tone of voice
- Eye contact
- Your gestures
- Facial expression
- Clenched jaw
- Balled up fists
- Rolling eyes
If you ignore your nonverbal communication, you may not know that you are communicating messages of anger, distress, disgust or disrespect, and your partner will react to them accordingly.
The greatest problem with communication is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. – Roy T. Bennett.
4. Show respect
It is essential to maintain and express respect for your spouse at all times. Authors of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work encourage couples to put the feelings of their partners before their need to be understood.
Even when you are arguing, be careful what you say and how you say it. An angry or dejected partner is less likely to engage in a conversation effectively. Remember, you cannot take back words that you have already uttered.
5. Spend quality time together
Connectedness and communication go together. Having fun together brings you and your partner closer. The closer you are, the more you are inclined to share your innermost thoughts and feelings.
Pick a common hobby, have regular date nights, spend Sunday afternoon cuddling under the blanket. The more fun you have, the more you will communicate.
6. Be honest with each other
Great communication is anchored on honesty. Speak up when you are hurting, or you disagree with your partner.
Do not pretend to be happy if you are not. Honesty will help you and your partner to solve problems more efficiently.
7. Ensure the timing is correct
While you want to tell your partner everything, it is wise to find the correct time to do so. If it doesn’t seem to be the right time, hold on until you find a time and place that is most appropriate.[
Something that may be rejected if you express it now may be actually heard or considered by your partner if you bring it up at a different time.
8. When you are wrong, own it
Taking responsibility for your actions shows that you are mature. Being defensive will make it difficult for your spouse to raise an issue next time.
Remember, there is no shame in admitting that you made a mistake. What is illogical is adopting an egoistic stance that prevents you and your partner from moving forward.
9. Focus on one issue at a time
Let us say that your partner spent a significant amount of money without consulting you. So you decide to talk about the money. In addition, you talk about how she is not paying attention to you nowadays and how the house has become untidy. Not a great move!
Even if you have many issues that you feel need to be discussed, experts advise that you bring up a maximum of one item per conversation.[ If you ignore this rule, you will overwhelm your partner with your avalanche of criticism, and he/she will shut down. Eventually, nothing will be solved.
10. Leave the past where it belongs
An occurrence in the past should remain in the past. It is history. Bringing up past behavior to defend the present day stance hinders your relationship from moving forward.
Once you deal with an issue, forgive and leave it behind if you want to keep your relationship alive.
After an argument, always move forward with a fresh slate. Resurrecting old wounds will increase the intensity of your discussion and steer it in an entirely different direction; far away from a resolution. Let sleeping dogs lie.
11. Prioritize your emotional intimacy
Your intimacy plays a considerable role in your communication. During intimacy, hormones that are responsible for bonding and attachment are released. The more you are attached to your partner, the better your communication becomes.
Also, discuss your sex life. How many times a week is satisfactory for both parties? What do you need from your partner for a fulfilling sexual experience? Discuss your sexual fantasies as well. If you can talk about sex with your partner, you can talk about anything!
12. Voice your love
Research shows that when you look your partner in the eye even in time of conflict and say, ‘I love you,’ the brain is prompted to release bonding hormones. The hormones make you and your spouse more trusting and create a conducive environment for a conversation even when you are angry, frustrated or disappointed with your partner.
Many spouses only voice their love when they are content with the status of the relationship. Your expression of love for your partner should not be dependent on the atmosphere.
13. Mind your language
Experts say that how you say something is as important as what you say. As such:
- Do not use extremes. Accusations such as, ‘you never,’ ‘you always’ do not add any value to your argument.
- Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you.’ No one wants to be labeled negatively or to be condemned. Instead of telling your partner how awful he is, express your own feelings. When you do ‘this’ it makes me feel ‘that.’
- Validate your partner’s feelings. Invalidation happens when you recognize your partner’s feelings but then discount, belittle, ignore or minimize them. Consider the following statements:
- Your concerns are totally unfounded.
- Who cares if you are angry?
- Stop overreacting.
- Get over it already!
As long as your partner feels that you do not acknowledge the importance of their feelings, you will both be stuck, and you cannot move forward with your communication or your relationship.
14. Focus on the positive
Communication between you and your spouse will be more successful if you adopt a positive attitude. Experts recommend that for any conversation, you should have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative statements.
Comparing your partner negatively to someone will be counterproductive to your discussion. ‘Why can’t you be more fun like Derek’s girlfriend?’ ‘None of my exes were as stingy as you are.’ You cannot hope to achieve anything out of your spouse when you have are already making them feel so inadequate.
Avoid judgment words and loaded terms: ‘you are acting so childish right now.’ ‘I am so tired of your ‘poor me’ attitude.’ Your partner will respond in anger and you will never get anything resolved.
Couples who know how to communicate effectively are able to nip issues in the bud before they turn into significant relationship eating problems.
Being more intentional about your communication techniques will help to create a safe place in the relationship where all issues can be addressed and solved. Always think carefully about the impact of what you are about to say to your partner.
Prioritize understanding your partner a relationship instead of focusing on winning in your arguments. It is better to be happy than to be right.