You’re dating someone new, or perhaps you’re in a long-term relationship. But, something’s amiss. Communication. You think they bottles up their feelings, they think you’re passive-aggressive. Yet you continue to live like this, used to each other’s patterns. But how do you know when your relationship needs communication help, anyway? “The easy answer is, it can always benefit from better communication,” says Jeffrey Sumber, MA, MTS, LCPC to Bustle. “I don’t know any couple that doesn’t need a little work when it comes to healthy communication, respect, positive regard for our partners… Inevitably, we get triggered and we fall into a reactive posture. When that happens, we tend to project our hurts and fears on our partner versus truly supporting them.”
Sound familiar? I know one couple who gave up complaining for Lent one year — 40 days and nights of not complaining about anything... or each other. Afterwards, they said it helped strengthen their relationship and, every time they started to say something non-constructive, they'd try to catch themselves and say it in such a way as not to cause relationship strife.
“The foundation of a good relationship is to be able to talk to someone, about anything and everything. The more you can talk to each other, the more likely you’ll trust each other and be able to confide in each other and know the other person won’t criticize you. Whether communicating offline or digitally, it is important to figure out how your partner wants to express endearments.” —Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives
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What are some key signs that you and your significant other could communicate better?
1. You Talk — Really Talk — To Each Other A Lot Less Than You Used To
You remember how it was at the beginning (or perhaps you've forgotten?): staying up all night talking on the phone or texting emojis, raving to everyone about him, not imagining a minute going by without hearing from her... So, since then, what happened? “Good communication will make your relationship great — bad communication will break it,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance"). “Also, talking is not always communicating. If you're just jabbering away at each other, you may not even be heard. It's very easy to tune each other out and just make listening noises. It's a good idea to somehow differentiate: ‘Honey, I have something important to talk to you about. Is this a good time?’ rather than just launching into whatever it is. You'll understand the difference between talking and just communication.”
2. You Feel The Other Person Is Not Listening ... Or Perhaps You Aren't
It's no fun to tell someone about our day, only to ask them a question about it and... they're caught. They weren't listening. “Not making your questions personable is a sign that you two could communicate better,” says Flores. “There’s nothing wrong with asking a generalized question, but your partner wants to know that you’re really listening to them. They want you to reiterate what they are saying. Be very specific, like ‘What did your boss say about the promotion today?’ If someone is too general, people feel they are boring their partner or they are really not listening.”
3. You Often Guess How The Other Person's Feeling
“It’s really obvious that a couple doesn’t communicate successfully when they’re constantly trying to figure out what their significant other is saying,” says Shelby Kern, a matchmaker and dating advisor at the Modern Love Club . “If you know someone that’s constantly talking about their relationship and asking what they should do or say or how to act in certain situations, that’s a sure sign that they’re not communicating clearly and effectively with their partner.”
4. You Are Afraid To Bring Up Certain Topics To Your Partner, As You Know They Usually Lead To Fights
It's easier to ignore something and try to will it to go away, right, vs. face it head-on? I know I've been guilty of this, and am trying to talk about things in the moment now instead of letting things build up. “A key sign is when we don’t communicate a problem or the harsh truth,” says Flores.
5. You Are Passive-Aggressive
Ah, the very thought makes me cringe. I wish people (romantic relationships and not) would just be more direct with one another versus rolling their eyes, sighing, you know. “Passive-aggressiveness in relationships is huge,” says Flores. “It’s not the best way to communicate problems and certainly not the best way to end a relationship. If someone's being passive-aggressive and you ask what’s wrong and they’re negating it, obviously you have communication issues.”
6. You Often Feel Alone
This one doesn't really need describing. You feel that, as long as your partner doesn't understand you, no one does, making you feel all alone. But don't be alone! If you can't talk to him or her, talk to your friends (see #7) — in moderation, that is. Then, talk to your partner.
7. You Find Yourself Confiding In Other People More Than Your Significant Other
Yep, we've all been there and done it, whether we just need someone to listen (again) or are avoiding actually going straight to the source (or significant other) or both. “The easiest example is your friend that calls you every other day because her and her partner just got into another fight and she ‘doesn’t even know how it happened,’ or the guy that regularly calls his partner ‘crazy,’ but didn’t actually take the time to understand what they were ‘crazy’ about,” says Kern. “These are people that are outsourcing their relationship problems to others because they don’t know how to talk to their partner instead.”
8. Your Sex Life Is MIA
“Sex is always a big giveaway,” says Dr. Tessina. “If you're having trouble with sex, either you're dissatisfied and don't get enough, you feel your partner wants too much, or the sex is fading out of your relationship, it's a sign that your communication has problems. Sex is just a physical form of communication.”
Great! So now that we know our romantic relationship is suffering from communication problems, what do you do?
“Focus on listening. Most people focus too much on insisting their partner listen. If you get stuck arguing about who's right or wrong, or which one of you should get what he or she wants, instead of talking helpfully about what would fix the problem, you are not communicating. However, if you listen to your partner first, you're more likely to be heard. Hearing what your partner has to say and understanding what she or she means is not the same as giving in or agreeing with him or her. Each of you needs to understand each other in order to figure out what will work for both of you. Communication is not a competition; you need to learn to work as a team.” —Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of several books, including Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage
Bring Up Concerns
“It’s better to bring up concerns and discuss them as they arise than to assume things will clear themselves up. In the long-term, that leads to pent-up frustration and tension and it makes every new thing seem bigger because there are so many other things behind it. Try to remain calm and logical when discussing your relationship with your partner. If you can’t do that because you’re heated, take some time to yourself. Actually take some time to think about it. Write it down if you need to and then talk to your partner calmly and clearly. When you’re in the argument, it helps to remind yourself repeatedly that the person in front of you is important to you and once you say something out loud, you can’t take it back. Focus on what’s actually important and avoid bringing up all of you past fights at once.” —Shelby Kern, a matchmaker and dating advisor at the Modern Love Club
“You have to ask questions, ‘What specifically am I saying that’s getting you upset?’ The other person will have to dig deep. The issue may not be that you are disagreeing with them about something, but your tone or body language. You have to really explore and examine what it is that you’re lacking regarding the communication in your relationship. You can also say, ‘What would help you feel more connected to me?’ Then, use words of endearment and encouragement.” —Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives
Have Weekly Check-Ins
“I encourage couples to check in with each other on a regular basis, typically weekly. That’s an opportunity to see whether things are going amazingly or if someone’s struggling. It’s an opportunity to offer appreciation for one another on a regular basis and express what we need. I have free download on the home page of my website, The Check-In Dialogue . It’s a five-page exercise and explains what the check-in is and how to do it.” —Jeffrey Sumber, MA, MTS, LCPC
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