We are all aware of the fact that effective communication is one of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship, but how many of us really know how to communicate well, or what should be considered and/or applied for communication to be successful? This does not include everyday conversations or making small talk. It’s about connecting with your partner on a deeper level by using verbal and non-verbal language to understand their viewpoint, bring your viewpoint across in a manner which they will understand, and for you both to end the conversation by feeling heard and that your needs have been met. Good communication is expressing yourself in a healthy way, listening to your partner when they are doing the same, and hearing and absorbing what they are saying. This deeper level of communication is usually necessary to communicate feelings you may be experiencing, or needs you feel may be unfulfilled with the end result being how you can work together to improve the relationship. By adopting good communication skills, it will become less stressful to resolve conflict which leads to building a strong and healthy connection. Communication in Relationships Another known fact as explained by “Partners – A Guide to Successful Relationships” is that it takes two to contribute to a successful relationship. Knowing your partner intimately does not mean that you are able to read their minds, therefore, clear communication is essential to avoid misunderstandings that may cause hurt, anger, resentment, and confusion. It’s uncommon for two people to share the exact same method of communicating as we are all unique. Therefore, make it a priority to learn and understand your partner’s way of interconnecting and vice versa early on in your relationship. Your communication skills are developed from a young age through observing adults, or parents and the way in which they interacted with you. If a safe space was created for you to communicate your feelings, you would’ve brought these skills into adulthood, and creating the exact same space for your partner would come naturally to you. Unfortunately, many people have not had the same privilege of being taught good communication skills and find it difficult as adults to participate in conversations about specific topics that might cause them to feel embarrassed. Certain styles of communication with these adults creates an association to historically painful experiences but, with empathy and patience this can change, it’s just going to take a little longer. The key here is to recognize when your other half feels unsafe. Once you know your partner is treading treacherous grounds it’s up to you to create a safe space for them to be able to open up. By not being able to recognize your partner’s feelings of being in an unsafe territory, and by not telling them that they are protected and can tell you anything, there will be a breakdown in communication which will cause damage to the relationship. As with all important aspects in relationships, it takes continuous work and patience to cultivate a healthy, open communication channel for both partners. It may not be perfect all the time, but the need to do it right should always be top of mind. How to Communicate Effectively in a Relationship Tony Robbins explains a few essentials to practicing good communication:
- Identify Your Individual Communication Styles:
Knowing your partners’ style and/or preference of communication is vital. Some people are keen to talk, whereas others prefer touch. Some are visual communicators whilst others relate to rational explanations. Not having identified your partner’s style could create a scenario where they are telling you exactly what they need, but you are not hearing them or making sense of what they are saying. Therefore, identify their style and be cognizant of how they convey information to you. Should continuous miscommunication come into play several opportunities to build trust and intimacy will be lost, and you’ll both become frustrated. In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) reference is made to different sensory styles. Meaning, how we as individuals make sense of the world. There are four ways of processing information:
|Visual: Energy is directed into a magnificent vision for a project or humanity. When a visual communicator feels stressed in a relationship, they will focus their vision on how their partner should be and improve
|Tonal: These individuals listen on many levels and understand you far beyond your words. However, when a tonal communicator becomes stressed, they amplify negative tones, they feel blamed, and suspect that their partner does not hear or value them.
|Kinesthetic: Will embrace you with deep compassion and emotional support as these communicators draw you into the glory of now. Feelings of stress lead these individuals to feel their partner’s pain to the extent where their boundaries and clarity become blurred, and their ability to express their own needs becomes impossible.
|Digital: Being kind and unemotional, digital partners quickly understand complex situations and map out logical solutions. Stressful conversations cause digitals to treat their partners’ needs logically through rational solutions which weakens the emotional connection.
Depending on the situation a combination of the above styles may be used. We do however fall back to our primary stress sensory style, the style that dominates our perceptions when we become stressed or anxious during a difficult conversation. During times like this, you may feel that your partner is not listening to you or understanding the message you are trying to bring across due to the difference in your sensory stress styles. Add to that the fact that we tend to attract people whose primary sensory style differs from our own and you are faced with a hurdle. Therefore, being able to identify this difference is critical to being able to understand one another. Keep an eye out for my next article when I discuss in depth the four types of sensory stress styles. 2. Discover Your Partner’s Needs: All humans have 6 basic fundamental needs. Depending on the person’s core values, it will differ in significance for each person. Knowing which needs are important to your partner will enable you to communicate with him/her in a way that makes them feel safe and that their needs are being met. CERTAINTY: By feeling secure in a relationship, in love, in commitment, and in the future it drives us to seek out pleasure and avoid pain, stress, and emotional distress. VARIETY: Relationships thrive on healthy challenges that allow partners to grow as a unit. By learning how to best communicate with your partner (and what their dominant sensory style is) you will find that adding variety to the mix keeps the fun element alive and exciting. SIGNIFICANCE: We all seek to feel like we are important to our partners. Communicate to your partner that he/she is significant in your life by telling them that you need them, or show them with a gentle touch, a look, or by spending quality time with them. LOVE & CONNECTION: We all have a sense of belonging which needs to be filled by being loved, returning that love, and feeling connected to others. We feel alive when we are loved but on the flipside absence of love causes pain. Learn your partner’s love language and communicate to them how much you love them in a way that they will understand. GROWTH: Our lives are in constant motion and without growth, our relationships will become stale. Whether it is emotional, intellectual, or spiritual growth, we are all looking to grow. With effective communication, you and your partner can grow together and support each other’s passions. CONTRIBUTION & GIVING: The secret to living is giving. Both partners are making contributions to their relationship be it time or money. What are you giving your partner? Your time? Your undivided attention? The benefit of the doubt? A second chance? When you have mastered effective communication, both partners can come up with new and better ways of contributing to the other’s happiness. 3. Determine if Your Partner’s Need are Being met: Have you been bold enough to ask your partner if you are meeting their needs? Remember, communication is not only about talking, it includes attentively listening and understanding what your partner is sharing with you. Take a moment to reflect on what your partner is saying and if you don’t understand, restart by repeating what they have shared, and ask if you are understanding correctly. Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues. 4. Be Open & Honest: It’s simple: Say what you mean, and mean what you say! Add this to the top of your list to cultivate strong and effective communication. Don’t shy away from conflict by not raising your fears, concerns, or areas where you feel neglected. Trusting your partner to create a safe space where you are open and honest about your truest feelings is crucial. Sugar-coating, or not being entirely honest about matters will, in the long run, tarnish your relationship. Your partner will be left in the dark as to how you are truly experiencing the relationship, and how you are genuinely feeling. Rather choose to speak openly and honestly and contribute to building a strong and trusting bond. 5. Be Present in Your Relationship: To improve your communication efforts, you need to be fully present. Set aside time, listen attentively without distraction to show your partner that you want to participate. Allow your partner to feel like a priority. Refrain from deep communication or conflict resolution when you are stressed, angry, or processing your own emotions and thoughts. You will not be able to actively participate in the conversation in an effective way. Love, trust, and intimacy are formed during testing times not when the going is easy. Therefore, don’t hide behind day-to-day life pressures to not communicate. 6. Let Things Go!: Don’t use a current conversation to rehash past transgressions. This is in direct contrast of being loving and working towards effective communication. Stay focused on the goal and outcome of the current discussion, and remember that you are attempting to build trust, intimacy, and a strong relationship. The past cannot be changed, so let it go, forgive each other, move on and focus on strengthening your bond by keeping the communication in the present tense. 7. Break Negative Patterns: Communicating is not only about your choice of words but also how we speak and use our voices. The pitch, pace, volume, and timbre of your voice play a significant role in how you are perceived by your partner. For example, a high-pitched voice comes across as sounding defensive or immature. Or, ending a sentence in a high tone comes across as a question, unless you asked one. Therefore, try to keep your voice tone balanced throughout the conversation. Speaking at a fast pace means comes across as aggressive, or not wanting to give your partner an opportunity to respond. If you find yourself speaking too fast, stop, take a deep breath and slow down your words. Pay attention to the volume of your voice so as not to come across as angry, or wanting to compete to be heard. Don’t raise your voice or scream at your partner. It will lead to a breakdown in the message. Timbre refers to the emotional quality, attitude, and tone in your voice. For example, should your timbre be one of sarcasm in your voice it will lead to your partner becoming defensive. By using “you” repeatedly it comes across as blaming your partner. Rather switch to “I” and “me”, or better yet, “we”! When the conversation starts showing signs of getting out of hand – break the pattern – by being playful and making a joke. It will help with the flow of communication and steer it back in the right direction. Humour helps you regain perspective and balance, and by laughing together you will be reminded why you love your partner and why you want to be together even through challenging times. Breaking the pattern is a powerful way of bringing the discussion back to a level where you can get to what matters. 8. Start Over: Should you reach a point where you feel that you are not understanding each other, stop the conversation and say, “okay, let’s start over”. Take a deep breath and start from the beginning. If you are able to communicate after animosity, there is hope for good effective communication. Here are some more helpful tips on how to communicate better:
- Ask Open-ended Questions: Instead of “Did you have a good day?” try, “How was your day?”. This will open up the conversation stream and it will allow your partner to share more information if they choose to.
- Pick up on Non-Verbal Cues: Communication is more than just the actual words that come out of our mouths. Our tone of voice, our attitude, or body language can also give away cues of how we are feeling. By taking note of these non-verbal cues, you can improve communication by being aware of whether your partner is upset, angry, or annoyed.
- Don’t Try to Read Minds: None of us can read minds! Therefore, don’t make assumptions about how your partner is feeling. Rather ask them. When you are upset, let your partner know how you are feeling. By saying “I’m okay” when you are not, can lead to more resentment as you get mad at your partner for not figuring out how you are feeling.
- Be Clear on What You Want to Discuss: Before you initiate the conversation, think about what you want to say, and how you want it to be received. Be clear in the way you share your message so that your partner understands what you are trying to explain.
- Set Time Aside to Talk: Making communication a priority in your relationship is vital to a strong bond. Set time aside to discuss matters when both partners are relaxed. Switch off your phones, and the TV, and have a deep conversation without any distractions.
- Share with Your Partner Your Wants & Needs: By telling your partner in advance what you need as an outcome to the conversation, whether it is to merely listen to you, or that you need to vent and choose them as your sounding board, or you may need their advice, will go a long way in ensuring that you both understand why you are having the conversation.
- Take a Break: Should you feel yourself becoming frustrated it’s ok to take a break instead of answering in a defensive tone. Take a moment to calm down and then return to the dialogue.
- Be Open to Negotiating: Enter the conversation knowing that you don’t always have to be right! Listen to your partner’s heart and in need be open to negotiate if you disagree. Should the matter at hand not be that important agree to disagree in a loving and gentle way.
Are you Listening to your Partner? Being an attentive listener goes hand-in-hand with communication. Being able to allow your partner to speak knowing you are listening to them will create encouragement to discuss important matters openly and honestly. Try some of the tips below:
- Lean into your partner, hold eye contact with a non-defensive, relaxed posture;
- Make sure you are not looking down on your partner but rather have your faces on the same level whether you are seated or standing;
- Show genuine interest. Refrain from fidgeting or foot-tapping;
- Allow your partner to speak without interrupting;
- Playback to your partner what you understood from the conversation by using statements such as “I hear that you feel…”
To wrap up, there are many aspects that contribute to mastering the art of good communication skills. Fortunately, this skill is a work in progress and can be improved if both partners are willing to put in the time and effort. Remember to take the time to understand your partners’ communication style. Once identified speak to them in a manner that will not feel like an attack or that you are dismissive of their feelings. Create a safe space for your partner to convey their feelings without judgement. Be patient with them and don’t try to force discussing feelings that they are not ready to share. Be open, honest, kind, and direct when in dialogue, and don’t hide behind “I am okay” if you aren’t. Your partner and relationship are an important part of your life, therefore communicating better should be a priority. It will strengthen your bond, intimacy, and trust in each other. Should you be experiencing a breakdown in communication with your partner and not sure what to do please contact me so that we can assess where the collapse is to build a new strong foundation from scratch. Debbie Hartmann, Life and Relationship Coach @My Kinda Life Coaching.