It is not uncommon to assume that because we’ve been with our partner for so long, we know them too well and they know us too well to guess what we need or want. Likewise, it is not uncommon to get extremely frustrated and annoyed when our partner is not doing or saying what we want to hear or need to have. And this is exactly when effective communication can make a difference. When we stop assuming and we start asking for what we need, instead of expressing what we don’t want, that’s when we truly begin to communicate.
Communication can make or break a relationship. When communication is ineffective, couples will argue often and will find themselves stuck in never ending cycles and unhealthy patterns that result in the same conflicts over and over again. But when partners are mindful of their words, behaviors, responses, and even assumptions, communication can take a whole different direction. Couples who make the effort to create necessary changes when unhelpful patterns of interaction are wounding the relationship, will have a better chance to repair their relationship and communicate effectively.
If you are currently trying to figure out how to improve the communication patterns in your relationship, then you have landed at the right place. In this article you will find practical suggestions on how to start communicating more effectively with your partner.
But first things first…
Why is Communication Important in a Relationship?
Well, healthy relationships stem from trust, and trust is earned through consistency, effective communication and follow-throughs. Without effective communication, a relationship cannot thrive. The act of communicating effectively is what helps partners connect, know each other, understand emotions, fulfill needs, and learn about experiences. When communication is unhealthy or ineffective, the relationship heads towards a place of disconnect, isolation, misunderstandings, and negative sentiments.
Here are ten things you can start doing to improve your communication and deepen your relationship:
1. Ask questions, and don’t assume that you know the answers
Assuming can be very harmful and toxic to any relationship, whether it is about a romantic partner, co-worker, friend, or family member. An assumption is basically something in which you believe in (usually about the other person) without having any proof of it being true. And the inherent problem with any kind of assumption is its fulfillment of emotional needs, which inevitably leads to an emotional response. When we assume, we tend to react based on that piece of information that we believe is true.
2. Pay attention to nonverbal cues
Non-verbal communication is especially important when it comes to close relationships. In fact, it is usually believed over verbal communication. When well interpreted, non-verbal cues can be incredibly reassuring and can complement the messages we are trying to convey. However, when misunderstood or ignored, it can create conflict and cause discomfort.
3. Avoid Criticism
Criticism is harmful, demotivating, hurtful, and unhelpful. Sometimes we might think criticism could potentially help others change and do things “better” but in reality, criticism only makes those who are being criticized feel ashamed, angry, and defensive. So rather than using criticism, it is often more effective to complain because complaining focuses on specific issues and not on attacking the other person’s character.
4. Soothe yourself when upset
The ability to self-soothe is one of the most important skills you can learn. Learning to soothe ourselves when we are upset could make an important difference in our communication patterns because it allows us to calm down when we feel threatened, which often sends us into fight or flight mode. When we allow ourselves to take a break when we feel overwhelmed with emotions, we can find the space to think clearly before doing or saying something we might end up regretting.
Validating feelings in our relationship will make our partner feel cared for and appreciated. Invalidating the people who are closest to us, only makes them feel guilty for feeling what they feel and for expressing their emotions and needs to those who are supposed to respond in a caring and empathetic way. Try to be mindful of your responses, and show your partner that you understand them through your words, actions and gestures. You don’t necessarily have to agree with their perspective but there is no need to tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel about it.
6. Be respectful
It’s important to show your partner you respect them by listening and responding. Respect in fact, is critically important in a healthy relationship and good communication is the superhighway to respect.
7. Ask open-ended questions
Asking the right questions can help you deepen your relationship and opens the doors to intimate communication. When you ask open-ended questions, you are looking for an authentic response from your partner, which will help you get closer and connect more.
8. Use “I” statements
Using “I” statements is not only about changing the semantics of your sentences. It changes the whole message! When we use “I” statements we are able to take full responsibility for our own thoughts and experiences and we are able to communicate it in a more effective way. Instead of blaming the other person for our experience, we are simply empathizing our thoughts and feelings to the listener and allowing some space for closeness and connection. For example, instead of saying, “You’re making me angry!” try saying “I feel angry because we were supposed to talk about our budget, and instead you made other plans.”
9. Share appreciation
You might be wondering “how can appreciation lead to effective communication?”. Well, that’s a good question and it can surely make an important difference in our communication patterns. When we frequently share appreciation with our partners, we build a foundation that will help us protect our bond when negativity and conflict show up. So, go ahead and pay attention to those positive qualities of your partner, acknowledge them, and express appreciation. It can truly make a difference.
10. Try your best to slow down and listen
Listening to learn, instead of listening to win an argument. Slowing down in our relationships is important because it allows us to create the space and opportunities to connect. It also provides us with a chance to be conscious in communication, to listen and to truly understand our partner’s perspective. Slowing down gives us enough room to regulate ourselves when we become stressed or anxious during an argument. It helps us pause and reflect. So, start by cultivating awareness and getting curious about yourself and about the moments in which you struggle to slow down. Start asking yourself “am I rushing right now? Why am I struggling to slow down?”
Most of our communication with one another in any friendship or relationship isn’t what we say, but how we say it. Communicating with your partner should be fulfilling, not frustrating. And just like riding a bike, effective communication is a skill that takes practice.