Relationship Communication 101!
When you think about your relationship, would you say you are still in the honeymoon phase? If not, how would you describe the relationship? Relationships go through changes over time; this is normal! Remember when you first met and could talk on the phone for hours, versus having brief chats now? By practicing good communication skills, you can increase enjoyable, meaningful interactions with your partner. Let’s talk about ways to do this.
With communication, try to avoid use of “always” or “never” when talking to your partner. This may lead to your partner feeling criticized or becoming defensive. Speaking of being defensive, it is important to take responsibility when it is warranted, rather than lashing out with “yes, well, you always/never…too”. Remember to use “I” statements, taking ownership, versus “you” statements. Open, honest communication is key to a healthy relationship. One recommendation to use with your partner is 3-step communication: a) tell your partner what emotion you are feeling; b) what situation caused the feeling; and c) telling your partner what you need. Remember our body language “speaks” volumes! Poor eye contact, crossed arms, or acting disinterested all set a negative tone for discussions.
Other suggestions for effective communication include use of open-ended questions, which prompts a response other than “yes/no”, showing appreciation for one another, active listening, and expressing empathy. In my experience working with couples, they report that during conflict, one wants to talk about it right now, and the other prefers to process the situation first. In this case, perhaps coming up with a mutually agreeable time to address the issue is helpful, instead of trying to get your partner to change. If you have a conflict discussion that escalates to affecting you physiologically, (pulse/heartrate increase), the likelihood of resolution is decreased. One or both should call time out, separate, self-soothe, and return later to readdress issue. There still may not be agreement, but there is a better chance of such.
Sometimes when things get “rough” it helps to talk to a therapist, having a safe, non-judgmental forum to address concerns. The couple is the client, rather than individuals. Possible therapies used may include role plays, conflict discussions, active listening exercises. I primarily use the Gottman Method for couples’ therapy. At times I may alternate between seeing the couple together, then each partner individually. Some helpful resources include gottman.com/blog/, and the Gottman Card Decks app.