Even in the strongest of relationships, there will be times when small irritations can cause mountains to grow out of molehills, so it’s important to keep striving for better communication.
As the essence of relationships, communication has a great impact on every aspect of life. Yet the channels of communication can sometimes become blocked, even among people who care deeply for each other. It’s often difficult to put our feelings into words or concentrate fully when our partner speaks. Unhelpful silences or verbal attacks can arise and drive us further apart.
Common barriers to communication include: threatening or unpleasant behavior such as criticism and bossiness; only hearing what we want to hear; getting bored or distracted; and not expressing our point clearly. Fortunately, working on our communication skills helps us to break through this sort of impasse. So follow these tried and tested tips to stop you reaching for the expletives and reach an understanding instead.
No matter what else is going on, try to make time for your partner on a day-to-day basis. Good communication is about deepening your understanding of each other, not simply avoiding arguments. Easier said than done, of course, but making time to talk is worth the effort. All being well, these occasions will be enjoyable and bring great rewards, so make a dinner date, share a bath or go for a walk together and let the conversation flow.
Secondly, remember the importance of intimate, non-sexual contact. Hugs and kisses are the glue which holds a relationship together, and consider activities such as sport to reconnect non-verbally. Psychologists believe the vast majority of communication takes place without words through body language.
Do you believe you know everything there is to know about your partner? It may be worth checking this out by asking them questions to reveal more about themselves. To deepen the communication and understanding between you, try talking about the times when you feel happiest or your hopes and dreams for the future. Don’t assume that your partner feels the same way you do.
This could bring up relationship ‘hot spots’ – work, money, childcare – which can then be dealt with openly. Experts suggest setting up reciprocal arrangements in which you both agree to take on an equal number of tasks and chores.
If you find yourself slipping into an argument, there are many ways to keep the row healthy. Most importantly, own your emotions by using “I” statements. For example, rather than “You make me angry,” or “This is all your fault,” try saying, “I feel concerned/upset…”. This keeps things calmer and makes it easier to compromise, as your partner will not become so defensive. Then keep to the point rather than slipping into attack and counter-attack, or emotional withdrawal.
But talking this way is only possible if you are aware of your own feelings. For this, you must recognize them, be accepting of them, and able to express them. We each have our own way of dealing with conflicts – your style may be to avoid the issue, give in, or blame the other person. Being aware of your style and that of your partner will help you resolve the situation.
In the heat of the moment, try to stay calm and accentuate the positive. See the other’s point of view while showing respect, and then look for a compromise that you can both accept. Listen carefully, give empathy and positive responses, and overlook the insults. Respond to criticism as useful information, if at all possible! Remember, the objective is not to stop every argument but to stop the escalating bitterness.
If either partner gets beyond the point of being civil and rational, ask for a “time-out” to calm down. But be sure to agree on continuing the discussion when you have had time to think about it.
Bear in mind that one of the secrets of happy couples is learning to tolerate or accept the other person’s faults. So-called “perfect relationships” do not exist, therefore small faults need to be accepted. Couples counseling encourages reaching an acceptance of one another through compassion and empathy, so you both come to truly understand the other person and become able to share your own feelings in depth. Then you can see the underlying reasons for their criticism or silence, perhaps they are really feeling unloved, rejected or hurt.
Having awareness of these techniques and skills is only half the battle – you need to develop them through practice until they become second nature. It will be an effort to change long-standing habits, but improving communication in your relationship is worth doing, as poor communication is one of the top causes of unhappy relationships.