Strengthening your Relationship: Improve Communication
Ask any happy couple what keeps things strong between them, and you’ll more than likely hear that communication is the foundation of a successful relationship. You wouldn’t try to drive a car without filling the gas tank, and you shouldn’t attempt to nurture a relationship not built upon honest, open communication. For example, take a couple that feels very much in love with one another: they spend time together every chance they get, they take classes together in school, they may even work in the same area of employment–sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Now take a look at how communication fits into the scheme of things: they don’t interact much because most times they do hang out, it’s very limited, after work, and they go to the movies where silence is golden; they are both attentive students and agree that socializing during class time is irresponsible and will be a burden on their future; they work at the same store, but being in different departments, this “ideal” couple rarely talk to one another on the job, many times being too exhausted from the day’s labor to connect one-on-one after punching out.
The point is just because a couple loves and cares for one another and/or spends a lot of time together doesn’t necessarily mean they have the positive communication essential to making their relationship work. Creeping doubts and insecurities such as past resentments (those of you “trying again” or “taking breaks”), feeling as if you aren’t being heard (“You never listen to me anymore!”), or even being heard but not listened to (“…but you don’t understand where I’m coming from.”) can put a stranglehold on your relationship by creating distance and irritability.
To remedy these common set-backs many of you experience in your daily relationships, you and your partner will want to start by creating a safe environment. In a safe environment couples feel more comfortable in expressing themselves without fear of judgment, criticism, feeling unheard, or not feeling supported. In order to establish healthy communication, try to avoid talking down to your partner or judging them for their actions: doing so only forces your partner to crawl further into his/her shell where you will find it much more difficult to get them to be open the next time around. Also, take your body language, facial expressions, and vocal tone into account when having a conversation with your loved one. If you are upset: uncross your arms, lose the glare, and steady your voice. If you find yourself nervous to the new improvement of open communication: relax–let your muscles be loose, smile–you have nothing to fear from positive communication, and speak up–a mumbling, indecisive partner is not attractive!
Effective Tips to Positive Communication
1. Ask and inform you partner about what your needs are: Your partner can’t read your mind, so don’t force them to try. Avoid sending hints or beating around the bush with “mind games”–they may seem cute and fun, but your partner might not always think so.
2. Make time during the day to talk to your partner: 30 minutes a day, preferably some time during the evening after you have both had time to wind down, find out what each other did during their day, share thoughts, experiences, etc. MAKE THIS HABITUAL!
3. Avoid critical and absolute words: Critical words are words which show judgment.–“Why did you…?” or “You shouldn‘t have done it that way.” While absolute words form roadblocks to communication, preventing improvement– “You will never…” or “You always…”
4. If you are upset, take time to release some of your stress: Be considerate of your partner by not taking out your frustrations on them. Try to journal, taking a walking, or talking yourself through your thoughts to clear your head. Diffusion of small problems allows you to be more attentive and less reactive to your partner.
5. Remember and reinforce the concept of teamwork: Realize that in a healthy, loving relationship no one “wins” an argument; serious commitment means meeting your partner halfway. Attempt to resolve the issue as a team by finding a way to fix the situation through compromising and understanding.
6. Exhibit to each other that you both understand where the other person is coming from: Validate your partner’s feelings by having empathy, attempting to understand, and clarifying their thoughts. Ask questions to prove that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. By summarizing what they are telling you, you are showing your partner that you are an attentive listener who is making the effort to ensure they are being understood.
If you are in San Diego and you are looking for a Couples or Marriage Counselor, call (619) 471-7104 or visit http://www.EstesTherapy.com. Jennine Estes would like to help you get your relationship back on track.
Jennine E. Estes, M.A.
Marriage and Family Therapist MFC#47653