It’s very common for couples to pursue counselling when communication issues begin to dominate their relationship. Does it ever feel like you and your partner keep missing each other on something? Or like your partner just doesn’t seem to get you anymore? Perhaps you feel you’ve been very clear about your perspective and it’s your partner’s problem that they just can’t seem to understand the issues from your point of view.
Blaming each other for what’s not working, although tempting, will not get you the satisfaction you so desperately desire. Whether you are struggling to navigate a difficult situation together or daily arguments have become the norm, everyone can benefit from improved communication. Here are five tips to help you get on a better track toward mutual understanding and a deeper connection:
1. Find an opportune time to talk calmly about the issues.
Preserving time to check in with each other can help you be more productive. Arrange a time in the near future when you are both likely to be calm and comfortable. Perhaps you find that morning tends to work best, or Sunday afternoon when you’re in a more relaxed mood. You may need to adjust your schedule slightly so you have some extra time.
Too often, couples attempt to discuss an issue as it’s unfolding. While this may work some of the time, giving each other a heads-up to discuss something more in-depth may help you feel more relaxed and open with your partner. Take a moment to express your need and then follow up with a suggestion for a more opportune time. This communicates respect and consideration, which helps to promote an atmosphere of goodwill between two people.
2. Understand and communicate your partner’s perspective.
Listening can be tough, especially when the other person is saying something that triggers a defensive response in you. Remind yourself that you will also have a turn; right now it’s important to tune in and not interrupt. Make eye contact and be fully present with your partner. You can demonstrate being present by focusing exclusively on the conversation and what’s being said. It might be helpful to view the discussion as involving two subjective perspectives rather than one person being “right” or “wrong.”
If you’re not clear on something, ask a thoughtful question or two to make sure you really understand. You might even say, “Am I getting that right?” or, “I want to make sure I understand; tell me if I’m hearing you correctly …” Take turns talking and listening to each other. Spending just 10 minutes focused on the other person sharing their perspective can make a significant difference. If you find things are escalating, take a 5-minute break and come back.
3. Be mindful of your language and tone.
It can be so easy to miss an important message when we don’t like the tone in which something is being said. Take inventory. When you feel the urge to become accusatory or to begin a statement with “You always …” stop yourself. Ask yourself what you’re feeling in this moment. Taking a minute to slow down before responding can help you say what you truly feel instead of becoming defensive or blaming. Perhaps you might try: “Talking about this always seems to lead us down a destructive path. I’d like to get to a better place with it, but I’m just not sure how.” This kind of statement might help to open up a more constructive dialogue.
If you find a particular topic is especially difficult, it may help to share your feelings surrounding the issue. For example, you might say, “I’d really like to talk about (the issue) with you, but I’m feeling anxious about it because I know this is an area we tend to struggle with.” Sometimes this sort of statement can relieve the pressure to get it right the first time. Be patient with yourself; with time and practice, communication with your partner can become more productive.
4. Think in terms of what you can give, not just what you can take.
While it’s certainly true good relationships involve both give and take, when both partners are focused on giving, they strengthen their ability to negotiate conflict more effectively. With some increased awareness, you can shift a problematic dynamic. Tune into your words and actions more carefully. Is there something you can say or do differently to yield different results? When we are kind, we send a caring message to our partner, and when we feel cared for, we can operate from a place of generosity and love.
What positive and unique qualities do you bring to your relationship? What makes you feel happy to provide to your partner? How can you contribute positively to the situation?
5. Notice and say out loud what you appreciate about your partner.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued. It can be easy to fall into a thinking pattern of: “I feel like I do so much, but no one notices.” When we take the time to openly appreciate someone else’s positive qualities and good deeds, we foster an atmosphere of emotional generosity. Notice something about your partner that you feel grateful for? Share it! Be on the lookout for what you can appreciate and say it. Often, we tend to focus on what we don’t have or what’s not working in relationships. This critical shift in perspective to a focus on the positive can make all the difference. You might find your partner begins to share their appreciation for how awesome you are as well.
Taking the time to understand your partner’s perspective and to reflect back that you truly “get it” can have a significant impact on the quality of your relationship. The next time you find yourself a little stuck, try out the tips above to help you move toward a deeper, more satisfying connection.