A rough patch, an argument, a rift may leave you feeling isolated in your relationship, wondering why your partner has gradually, or even suddenly, begun to feel like a stranger to you. Whilst there are serious altercations that warrant professional intervention, sometimes couples feel they simply need a fresh start when it comes to communication. Even when your relationship feels solid, putting intentional practice to positive communication can set you up for calm and rational teamwork during difficult situations. Below is an outline of steps to take toward bolstering your lines of healthy communication.
Recognizing Poor Communication
- Avoidance- You or your partner frequently walk away during difficult conversations or else avoid bringing things up all together for fear of an emotional outburst or argument
- Passive aggression- Manipulative speech, silent treatment, sarcasm
- Aggression- Interrupting, shouting, dominating the conversation, blaming, criticizing
Understanding Each Other’s Preferences and Comforts
Discussing when and how you’ll communicate can be just as important as the subject matter itself.
- Identify your default communication styles to help better understand each other. Both of you should work toward being assertive rather than passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive.
- Identify your love languages. Understanding how your partner feels supported can help ease tension when bettering your communication. Perhaps he or she appreciates more apparent gestures like words of affirmation or a gentle touch or is instead more responsive to subtler gestures like tone and other auditory cues.
- Communicate how secure each of you is feeling in the relationship. If you’ve made a long-term commitment, vow or promise to each other, discuss what you can do for each other to make the other feel confident and certain about your commitment
- Rather than reserving “I love you” to resolve a conflict quickly, show your partner in diverse ways how much you love him or her every day
- Determine if both of your needs are being met
- Especially when you disagree, you must be able to trust that your opinion will be respected. This comes from being vulnerable and present when spending time together.
During an important or difficult conversation…
- Tell you partner ahead of time you’d like to have a calm and rational discussion so that he or she does’t feel ambushed by a sudden onslaught
- If you’re feeling heated, try to process your emotions and calm down first before addressing your partner with anger
- Communicate your feelings with “I” rather than placing blame on him or her
- Ask to be heard, but also be sure to listen well when your partner is speaking, even if you may not agree with what he or she is saying
- Compromise frequently. Neither of you should leave a difficult conversation feeling like you were steamrolled or that the issue was left unresolved.
- Use agreed upon boundaries and rules to help maintain pragmatism and transparency (ex: set a spending limit that would require approval from both of you should an expense go above. Agree that you won’t make major disciplinary decisions regarding your kids without the other parent being present).
- Communicate constantly using different modes. If you’re not together during the day, consider leaving notes, sending emails and texts to update him or her on how you’re doing. Be intentional about checking in, even for little, fun things.
- Don’t be afraid to inject humor into a conversation (as long as it’s not at the expense of your partner or doesn’t degrade a serious conversation).
- Actively look for things you find charming about your partner and focus on and delight in them.
Try not to…
- Stew in your own frustrations, assuming your partner can read your mind.
- Bring up old transgressions every time you’re in an argument. If something gets resolved, let that be the end of it.
- Raise your voice. Speaking loudly doesn’t resolve things any quicker or better.
- Walk away abruptly and disengage (unless you feel you need to calm down before continuing the conversation. If that’s the case, communicate to your partner that’s what you’re doing.)
- Wield sarcasm and insults.
- Engage in hurtful body language such as eye-rolling or phone checking during an important conversation.
- Over communicate. This can be as damaging as under communication because it may involve externalizing (I.e. Sharing a stream of consciousness and dominating the conversation before processing what exactly you’d like to say). More isn’t always better.