When you're not communicating effectively and productively with your partner, nothing in the world seems to make sense. Puzzle pieces stop fitting together. Cats stop being cute. Pizza doesn't taste good. Babies cry whenever you come near them. It's the worst. It creates such a disconnect that you might even begin to wonder if you're in the right relationship, even if you have a loving partner who you adore. Communication is that important.
I spent a healthy chunk of my time teaching communication tips to frustrated couples when I worked as a Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator and Domestic Violence Victim Advocate. Sometimes partners thought they had huge problems that couldn't be overcome, only to find out that they just didn't know how to talk to each other.
Getting your communication skills on point in your relationship is like taking antibiotics when you're sick. Problems clear up. Happiness becomes more commonplace. You begin to look forward to life again. If you've never really learned healthy communication skills, including things like conflict resolution and boundaries, you're not alone. A lot of this stuff we have to learn the hard way by struggling through bad relationships, or therapy. Luckily, we also have the Internet, so you can pick up tips for better conversations with your partner.
1. Don't Put Things Off
When a problem arises, you can deal with it, or you can let it fester. If you let it fester, that's a great recipe for resentment and deeply stuffed anger. Too much of that stuff is toxic to your relationship. It's totally reasonable to step back and say "I need to think" or "I need to cool off." What's not OK is to avoid the issue for weeks and months. When you have a problem, resolve to deal with it as soon as you can. Make that pact with your partner so you're both on the same page.
2. Identify The Real Problem
Did one of you forget to take out the trash, which resulted in a fight of epic proportions? Nobody gets that riled up about missing one chore. There's probably something else going on. Maybe the real issue is that you feel like you can't depend on your partner to do what they say they're going to do. Maybe it's that you feel like your partner doesn't do an equal share of the chores, which makes you feel used and disrespected. Whenever you find yourself arguing about something small, stop and ask what the bigger picture problem is. It will save you the time, energy, and emotional wreckage of some unnecessary arguing.
3. Bite Your Tongue Every So Often
Believe it or not, sometimes not saying anything is some of the best, most healthy communicating you can do. It means you're letting your partner speak and be heard. If one of you tends to dominate the conversations, work on equal participation. The same goes for people who aren't as talkative or expressive. When you're listening, you also need to make sure you're really listening, and not just working on your reply.
4. Use Those "I" Statements Instead Of Blaming
There are two ways you can broach a problem. You can say "you never take the trash out, you're so lazy" or you can say "I feel frustrated and taken for granted when I have to do both of our chores." The first example is full of blame and shame. The second example is an honest expression of your feelings. I statements are a kind and gentle way to bring up problems.
5. Set Up Your Ground Rules
At a tie when you're not fighting, it's important to create ground rules and boundaries about how you will act when you do fight. You might set up ground rules like not calling each other names, not bringing up the past if it's not relevant, or not keeping things inside when you're upset. Some couples are fine with yelling and some are not. Some couples communicate better when they writing things out and some couples need to take time to gather their thoughts before they speak. If you agree to a respectful argument strategy, then you can feel safe talking to each other about hard things.
6. Take A Reasonable Approach To Criticism
Criticism can feel like a slap in the face, but when you're in a relationship, it's important to be able to take criticism without taking it personally. Constructive criticism is often dished out by people who love you and want you to be your best self. When your partner tells you they wished you ate a healthier diet, they likely mean "I want you to be healthy and around as long as possible" and not "you're fat and gross and you eat like a child." Do your best not to take criticism personally.
7. Don't Try To Control Each Other's Emotions
You can't tell your partner not to get upset or not to be angry. You can only ask that they express those feelings respectfully. When you try to control your partner's emotions, not only is it unhealthy, but it's begging for a dishonest response. If you're mad, be mad. If you're sad, be sad. let your partner do the same.
8. Reserve Your Judgment
If you ask your partner to share their true and honest feelings, you can't get mad when that's exactly what they do (so long as they do it respectfully). In the course of a long relationship, you're going to have lots of opportunities to disagree and lots of feelings that make each other uncomfortable. When you judge or shame your partner for those feelings, you make it more difficult to share them honestly in the future.
9. Acknowledge What Your Partner Is Saying
Communication is a two-way street even when it's your turn to listen. Your supportive body language, such as facing your partner and nodding your head, affirm that you're listening. Statements like "I can see where you're coming from" or "I need to be better at that" or "I hear you" let your partner know that you're actively listening and thinking about what they're saying.
10. Give Each Other Room To Change
Giving each other room to change is about two things. First, it's about understanding that just because someone felt a certain way in the past, it doesn't mean they feel that way now. It also means that your partner might need some time to make positive changes going forward. You can't expect instant resolutions to all of your problems.
11. Identify The Goal Of Your Conversation
Never forget, no matter how heated or emotional you get, that the goal of arguments should be to find solutions to problems. The goal should not just be to blow off steam, blame, or win. When things get too intense, just ask yourselves "what's the goal here" and it will help you get back on track and refocused.
Winning is never really winning when it comes to communications. The goal should always be a peaceful resolution that both couples can be happy with.
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