My boyfriend and I have very different communication styles. Not only do I prefer to talk basically all of the time (and the medium is irrelevant; I’m all about everything from face-to-face to Messenger to FaceTime) and he’d probably rather be silent for the majority of the day but we also fight really differently. I grew up in a house where yelling and slamming doors was seen as a healthy way to get out your emotions, but his childhood was considerably different and, as a result, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to communicate — and how to fight.
Working through different communication styles as a couple is really hard, but it’s also probably one of the most important things you can do to ensure your relationship survives. All couples fight but fighting right is a different thing.
“All couples argue,” Sarah Watson, licensed professional counselor and sex therapist, tells Bustle. “It’s incredibly healthy to discuss your differences and what you need from your partner. What isn't healthy is screaming and saying hurtful things that you cannot take back.”
I asked Watson and licensed psychotherapist and dating coach Pella Weisman for more tips on how to work through different communication styles and fight better. Here’s what they told me. But first, check out the latest episode of Bustle's Sex and Relationships podcast, I Want It That Way:
1. Explain Why The Current System Isn’t Working For You
“If they like to yell and that doesn't work for you, let them know why,” Weisman tells Bustle. “Tell them how it feels, that it hurts your feelings, what it reminds you of from your family of origin.”
So, for example, I had to explain to my boyfriend that him leaving to cool down while we were fighting actually revved me up further, creating an anxiety spiral that made everything worse, because I was used to yelling and getting everything out. We had to work together to figure out a way to fight that gave him the space to work through everything but also didn’t leave me feeling anxious and frustrated and huge part of that was understanding where the other was coming from.
2. Step Away From The Fight
Cooling down helps deactivate that fight or flight response that pops up when emotions are high. Watson suggests taking a break — whether it’s five minutes or a full day — to let your body get back to calm and rational. When emotions are high (and this is something I still haven’t quite gotten a hold on), you’re not going to solve anything.
3. Treat Your Partner’s Communication Style Like A Foreign Culture
“Think of listening to your partner as a visit to another planet,” Weisman says. “You want to be respectful, curious, and open to different customs and traditions — even if they seem very different than your own.”
4. Ask A Lot Of Questions
And just like you would in a totally new country, ask a lot of questions! That’s the only way you’re going to find out why your partner does what they do and how you can communicate more clearly with them.
“Ask lots of questions and try to understand the way your partner feels and thinks,” Weisman says. “It means leaving your own planet for awhile in order to really get a sense of theirs.”
5. Agree To Active Listening & Responding
Active listening means “you are engaged with your partner in understanding and really hearing what they are saying,” Watson says. It does not mean thinking of your response and waiting impatiently for them to finish talking so you can get your say in. (Guilty!) Paraphrasing what your partner said before you respond is one way Watson recommends showing you’re paying attention to what they’re saying.
6. Set A Timer
Weisman suggests setting a timer to make sure you both have space to speak. It also helps remind you not to interrupt your partner when they’re speaking, forcing both of you to really listen and giving you space to reflect.
7. Try Not To Criticize And Judge
When you’re responding to your partner, try really hard not to criticize or judge. I know, I know — this is probably the hardest part. But that’s one of the reasons it’s a good idea to step away from the fight and come back when you’re feeling calmer.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (7)