It’s no secret that effective communication leads to a higher level of satisfaction and happiness in relationships. But just like any other skill, truly effective communication often requires patience and practice to develop. Do you ever feel that dealing with your partner can be exhausting? Or that you’re already putting in maximum levels of effort, yet not getting anywhere with your conversations? It’s more common than you might think. In fact, a 2013 survey by the Huffington Post revealed that poor communication is the number one reason couples split up. To help stave off the stalemates we decided to ask Dr. Lorrie Slater, Assistant Professor of Counseling at Richmont Graduate University, to explain some useful tools in perfecting our communication skills.
First things first – Couples have to find ways to open up. If you or your partner tend to have a hard time sharing, this could have more to do with the person’s history than their current situation. Dr. Slater explains, “Sometimes people have been hurt by past relationships where they felt unheard or devalued. Maybe the family they grew up in didn’t communicate well.” Whether from a lack of understanding on how to approach a topic or feeling that it’s unsafe to share, avoidance is the first major blockage in the road to effectively communicating. Make sure your partner knows it’s safe to open up by being receptive. If you are the one with the hesitation, try facing your fears by putting yourself out there. It’s the only healthy way to achieve results.
An easy way to get this process started is by “owning the issue,” says Slater. “Use ‘I’ statements such as, ‘I felt scared when,’ or ‘I feel disrespected when.’” This gives the issue its due importance. From there, ask questions. Using active listening techniques ensures you both understand each other and that you both feel validated. “Can you help me understand…” and “So you’re saying…” are good guides to keep the conversation moving in the right direction. “Active listening is more than just repeating what your partner said. It’s listening to hear what they mean and checking in to make sure you understand,” Slater explains.
She also warns to avoid ‘unfair fighting’ such as name calling, put downs, minimizing your partner’s needs, and being disrespectful. Instead, take your partner’s feelings and motivations into consideration during conversations.
Dr. Slater explains that asking yourself a certain set of questions about both you and your partner can help shed insight into a communication debacle. “Consider the character of both you and your partner. ‘My partner is typically kind, why are they
being so mean?’ Is there a lot of stress from work or school? Is your negative feeling really based on this current circumstance or is it spill-over from a past relationship?”
Empathy can also go a long way to diffuse old, unhealthy habits. Evaluate your own motives – are you working toward the good of the whole family, or just trying to satisfy your own needs? Additionally, when one partner (almost) always wins disagreements, the couple as a unit never wins. “When we compromise, the couple is strengthened and individuals feel loved and valued,” Slater encourages, “Kindness matters – be kind to your partner and be kind to yourself.”
A plan of action can be helpful in establishing your preferred way to breech touchy topics. “Set aside private time to list personal thoughts, then set aside time to bring those lists together and see what you actually agree on,” Slater suggests. Ultimately, just keep in mind that you’re working toward a common goal of better understanding each other, and be patient as you build more effective communication practices. It’s a win/win in the end.