Experts constantly talk about how communication is the most important thing for relationships, even when it comes to your sex life. But what do you do if your partner doesn't communicate well? I talk about everything. Everything. Probably too much. As you might guess, writing about sex for a living goes hand in hand with being an oversharer. Which in a way, can be good, because I find it pretty easy to talk about how I'm feeling (although I can certainly be as guilty as anyone when it comes to be immature and defensive on occasion). But I'm also aware that not everyone finds talking about things so easy. It's not a criticism— talking about feelings and relationships dynamics is tough, loaded, and incredibly awkward. We all start to feeling tangled up at the idea of having to have a deep chat about what's bothering us, and it can feel so much easier just to avoid it all together.
So what can you do if the communication isn't strong in your relationship? Firstly, you need to be self-aware enough to recognize that you may not be communicating as well as you can do and then you make sure you're creating an environment that makes your partner feel safe to communicate. It's a massive learning curve in a relationship so don't feel stressed if you're still developing communication skills. It will get there eventually— but here's what you can do to help your partner communicate better:
1. Work On Your Communication
Even if you're naturally the better communicator or if you feel like your partner is holding back, it's important to consistently show that you're open and willing. You can do this by communicating your feelings in a measured, reasoned way. If you communication is difficult for your partner, them seeing you do it without it being a huge, traumatic event, will make it easier for them to do it themselves. Although you have to respect that, if they find it challenging, it may take a little longer. Just continue to set a good example until they become a little more practiced at communicating their feelings.
2. Use "I" Instead Of "You"
If you are trying to get your partner to open up, saying "You did X" or "You make me feel Y" is not going to help. It's accusatory, and it will immediately put people on the defensive. Instead, describe how you're feeling and what you're thinking, and let your partner do the same. You'll eventually cover the same ground, but without having the other person feel the need to defend themselves or lash out.
3. Ask Questions
According to Karl Pillemer Ph.D., who wrote 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage: "Through years of talking and observation, we come to feel that we understand our partners as well as we do ourselves ... We expect them to intuitively understand what's going on in our heads without our communicating about it". While normally we apply this to our partners— assuming they know what's going on in our minds— we forget that we do the same thing about our partners— we assume we know how they're feeling or what they're thinking or work off of that. Ask your partner questions about what's going on with them. Giving them opportunities to talk will make them communicate better.
4. Actually Listen
Listen to what they're saying rather than assuming you know the answer and zoning out. Couples' therapist Janet Zinn says that active listening is the key to good communication in relationships. And when your partner feels that you're actually paying attention to what they're saying and taking it to heart, they'll feel safer and be able to communicate more honestly.
5. Remember Body Language
It's not just about what you're saying. Body language is a huge component as communication, in fact, Dr. John Grohol points that a huge amount of how we convey what we're feeling comes through our bodies and stances like "folded arms in front of a person may mean they’re feeling defensive or closed off". If you want your partner to be able to communicate with you, make sure you position yourself in a way that shows you're ready to listen.
6. Make It A Routine Rather Than An Event
Regular communication is key. If you let things build up, every time you talk about your feelings will feel like an a massive event where you'll both be nervous and awkward— not ideal communication backdrop. Plus, letting things build up means lots of issues can get confused with each other, and it can be difficult to tell what you're actually upset or concerned about. But if you deal with issues as they arise, it's more effective and you can avoid that horrible "big talk" feeling. If your partner feels nervous about big talks, making every discussion a non-event will put them at ease. Communication should be something you do all the time, and you'll both be better for it.
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