Healthy communication is the heart of a healthy relationship. And learning how to be an expert communicator is a life-long process. In fact, there are probably a few communication mistakes you didn't know you were making. No one's perfect. But that's OK, because we are all works in progress.
For example, not to brag, but I'm a seasoned relationships writer with hands-on experience as both a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate, and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator. I studied relationships, psychology, women's studies, and communication in college. And I make communication mistakes on a regular basis in my own relationship. Like, all the time. I made one this morning, as a matter of fact, when instead of respectfully setting a boundary with my partner, I called her Cranky McJerkface. Really mature, right?
No matter how experienced you are, or how great your relationship is, believe me when I say there's always room to improve. There will always be those moments when you're not your best self and you say something mean, or when you think you're being helpful and you really say something condescending to your partner. Plus communication is much more than that. It's body language. It's making your needs known. It's having safe, respectful disagreements. In the spirit of being better communicators, let's explore some common communication mistakes that we don't even even realize we're making. Because if we remove even one of those mistakes from our relationships, we'll next-level communicators who take our love to the next level.
1. Not Setting Boundaries
You have to use your voice to set boundaries. Boundaries sound complicated, and even a little cold, but they're really critical to a healthy relationship. Boundaries, when you strip them down, are just the things you will and will not allow. For example, when your partner is being cranky, you can set a boundary by saying "I'm not OK with you being rude to me because you're cranky." Another example of a boundary is telling your partner that you're not OK with name calling during arguments. If you're not communicating your boundaries, you're not giving your partner any ground rules for how you want to be treated, which means you're leaving it up to chance.
2. Raising Your Voice
Did you know that you don't ever have to raise your voice in a relationship, even when you're mad? Some couples argue loudly, and that's fine, as long as everyone is being respectful. But some partners actually get intimidated by yelling. I'm one of those people. This goes back to boundaries, but it's OK to say "I don't like to be yelled at, ever." If you never tell your partner that you don't like yelling, they won't ever know. And if you're the only yeller in your relationship, you might want to talk to your partner about how that feels, and ways to have calmer discussions. And if you're both yellers, and you're both fine with that, then rock on with your loud selves.
3. Not Getting Specific
This is probably the most common communication mistake we make in relationships. Either we're not clear enough, and we get upset when we're misunderstood, or we're not specific enough and we get upset when we don't get what we want. Our partners are not mind readers. If we want romance, we need to ask for romance. If we want the house cleaned, we can't just assume it will get done just because one of us has the day off. We have to be very clear about the things we want. The whole "they should know" is not really a good justification for not being clear. If it matters to you, be clear and specific.
4. Not Communicating At All
A lot of people can't talk about things when they're upset. The need time to calm down, or to think and process before they can hash things out. And that's fine, as long as they eventually hash things out. But if you never communicate about the things that bother you, you're setting your relationship up for failure. When something bothers you, and you don't address it, it piles up inside until all those unaddressed issues turn into resentment. Resentment leads to anger and frustrations. Even if it's really hard for you, you have to learn to talk about the things that bother you.
5. Not Listening
Communicating is a two way street, which means listening and reacting are just as important as talking. You need to make sure your partner feels heard, even if you disagree If you don't listen, your partner could feel ignored, disrespected, unworthy, or unimportant. You don't want to trample over your partner's voice and feelings. Take time to actively listen, ask questions, and try to see their point of view. And when it's your turn to speak, they should do the same for you.
6. Not Making Your Communication Style Clear
We all have communication styles, and it's up to us to teach our partners the best ways to communicate with us. It's also up to us to try to learn our partner's communication styles. Whether we need time to process, whether we raise our voices, if we need eye contact, and if we need to talk in person as opposed to over the phone are all small examples of what makes up our communication styles. If we never tell our partners about how we need them to communicate with us, they'll never know.
7. Communicating For Each Other
I'm not talking about ordering for each other while one is in the bathroom (although that can be annoying). I'm talking about speaking for our partners, and assuming we know how they think and feel without asking them. Often, as a couple, it's easy to make plans and decisions while just assuming the other person will be OK with it. Sometimes this needs to happen, but when you're not in a situation that requires an immediate answer, it's disrespectful to forgo your partner's input. It's always better to ask how they think and feel, and to avoid speaking for them unless they ask you to.
These are pretty common mistakes that may seem relatively minor, but I promise that mastering them will add so much harmony and closeness to your relationship. And when in doubt, there's no shame in seeking counseling for communication help. Think of it like seeing a dentist for a cavity.