Communication is the most essential element of a healthy relationship. The negative consequences of poor communication are so great that no couple, not even those that look flawless, are immune. Bottled-up, negative feelings — regarding who did the dishes last, or who went down on who last, or who disrespectfully talked all the way through Scandal last night — can poison a relationship, as unvoiced annoyances lead to passive aggression and silent resentment, the worst kind of resentment.
Healthy couples communicate. A lot. A 2013 study found that those who reported better, more effective communication were the happiest with their relationships. No one’s suggesting you discuss the shape of your poops with your boyfriend, or tell a long, graphic story about that dude you banged back in Copenhagen, but it’s always productive to veer on the side of over-communicating — unless, however, communicating would seriously damage your partner in a way that's more powerful than the relief you’d feel from expressing your feelings. A few examples of counterproductive communication: “I think you’re a terrible skateboarder, and your stupid tricks don't even look cool." (It's cruel because he thinks his stupid tricks look the coolest.) Or, “That birthday cake you made me was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten." (It's cruel because he made you a birthday cake.)
An important aspect of great communication is knowing when and how to communicate. Here are some of the healthy habits of couples with great communication.
1. When something feels off, someone says something.
The only time bottling up is constructive is in the instance of wine. The end.
2. But not every single emotion or annoyance is worthy of vocalization.
Let's say he’s taken up the ukulele and, while he gets great satisfaction out of playing, he’s bad. Really bad. The benefits to vocalizing this will be fleeting, and might be hurtful to your partner. If he plays the thing when you’re trying to go to sleep, that’s worthy of a conversation. But if he gets joy out of it despite the fact that (you think) he's a fundamentally untalented musician, maybe keep that to yourself. Sean Horan, who led a 2013 study on deception in relationships, found that minor white lies were harmless. “We don’t always want to know the truth all the time,” Horan said to Women's Health .
There are some things you should just keep to yourself for your partner's benefit. (If you're having trouble keeping them to yourself, just flee the scene.)
3. Both partners communicate grievances respectfully and honestly.
The efficacy of communication lies in its execution. While no one should dance around the issues ("I sort of have this feeling that maybe if you put your trash in the trash can instead of on the floor maybe that would be really great, but only if you're cool with it. Also I love you and do whatever"), healthy partners voice concerns from a kind, loving place — not an accusatory place, with the intention of hurting. Name calling is off limits, unless it's an unironic, affectionate "boo boo." Dr. John Grohol, CEO of Psych Central, suggests incorporating humor into the conversation. "Humor helps lighten everyday frustrations and helps puts things into perspective more gently than other methods," he writes. "Playfulness reminds us that even as adults, we all have a side to us that enjoys fun and taking a break from the seriousness of work and other demands made on us."
4. The positives are expressed just as frequently as the negatives.
Intra-couple communication shouldn't always revolve around the problematic. Healthy couples take the time to express their gratitude, and their love, and their horniness, just as much as they take the time to broach the issues that need fixing. And when there is a problem, the concerned partner still expresses her grievances with gratitude. As Robert Leahy, PhD, Director of the Cognitive Institute of Cognitive Therapy for New York, writes on the Huffington Post, "Making suggestions for change ("It would be helpful if you cleaned up a bit more"), while giving credit for some positives ("I do appreciate your help with the shopping") can get you more attention and cooperation than out-right attacks ("You are the most selfish person I have ever known").
5. When they're not together, they're still communicating.
"Out of sight, out of mind" should not apply to people in loving, functional relationships. Text, Skype, Facetime, Twitter, emojis — these are just some of the ways that the youths are staying in touch when in-person communication isn't possible with their significant other. A simple kiss mark emoji text — just like a real-life kiss in real-life — is a completely effective mode of building intimacy and reminding your person you love them. Esther Perel, a therapist and author of "Mating in Captivity," recognizes sexts and flirty texts as a great way to build intimacy. "We've always sent photographs, drawings, written to each other," Perel told the Huffington Post. "Sex and love online gives you [the ability] to express yourself in ways that you [normally] do not."
6. They tackle confrontation head-on.
Confrontation is scary, but it's the only way to tackle an issue before it grows to an un-tackleable size. Confrontation is less scary when couples make communication a habit, so when one partner brings up an issue — for example, "I don't like when you pressure me into putting cheese on my sandwiches; you know it makes me gassy" — it seems like less of a dramatic attack, and more like an average, run-of-the-mill, easily-fixable issue. According to Ashley Bush, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy, healthy couples don't shut out conflict, but rather respect conflict as "a means for growing together… an opportunity to understand each other better and to clarify their needs and values."
7. Hugs count as communication!
Strong couples express their love and gratitude with hugs, kisses, flowers, and/or fun sex things on a regular basis. Sometimes the most powerful modes of communication are the physical ones (though words are important, too). Nonverbal cues are a crucial element of communication; even something as basic as posture affects how your message is perceived by your partner. "Make and maintain eye contact, keep a neutral body stance and tone to your voice, and sit next to the person when you’re talking to them," Dr. Grohol advises.
8. They abandon grudges.
Active communication — particularly surrounding touchy subjects — can hurt feelings, but that's natural. The key is to explore, and then let go of, any resentment an argument provokes. "Provided that your partner is able to bounce back from spats, you'll experience greater satisfaction, even if you tend to stay P.O.'d, according to recent research," writes Sheila Monaghan for Women's Health Magazine. "The mark of a good recovery: You don't allow conflicts about one issue — say, money — to spill over into other areas of your relationship." In short: they let it go.
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