Communication may be the cornerstone of solid relationships, but navigating conversations with your partner can sometimes feel like deciphering hieroglyphics in a hurricane.
With a few tweaks and adjustments, you can transform your discussions from frustrating to fulfilling. Here are the communication skills and habits to practice for happy connections.
Ditch the Accusations, Choose “I” Statements
Ditch the finger-pointing! Shift the focus from criticizing “you” to expressing your own feelings with “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try, “I feel hurt when I try to talk and don't feel like you've heard me.”
Listen Like a Champ
Active listening is the seed for growing empathy and understanding. Give your partner your full attention, get curious about what they want you to know, and offer encouraging nods. Show you're engaged by summarizing what they've said to ensure you're understanding them.
Respect, Rain or Shine
When you disagree with someone, it's important to remember to treat them with respect. Avoid using insults, put-downs, or interrupting them. Remember that you're working together to solve a problem, not fighting against each other.
If the conversation starts to become negative, remind the other person that you're both on the same team and that you want to understand their feelings. This will help the conversation to stay positive and focused on finding a solution.
Be a Validation Station
Acknowledge your partner's feelings, even if they differ from yours. A simple “I hear your feelings…” can go a long way in building trust and connection. Remember, validation doesn't mean agreement. It means understanding.
“Time Out” Before Meltdown
Feeling the heat rising? Call a “time out” before things boil over. Excuse yourself briefly, take a few deep breaths, and return when you're both ready for a calmer conversation. You may find the issue resolves itself or just really wasn’t worth the heated discussion in the first place.
Don't let good things go unnoticed! Express gratitude for the little things your partner does. A simple “Thank you for making dinner” or “I appreciate you listening to me today” can work wonders.
Use those sticky notes for purposes beyond the grocery list. Write down some form of gratitude or positive message and post it on the bathroom mirror or somewhere your partner will see.
The Power of Nonverbals
Body language speaks volumes. While conducting research for “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Gottman discovered that during tense discussions, couples experience elevated heart rates. This primal reaction, inherited from our ancestors, is an evolutionary method of survival.
When our body experiences a physical stress reaction, the ability to process information is reduced. “You’re left with the most reflexive, least intellectually sophisticated responses in your repertoire: to fight (act critical, contemptuous, or defensive) or flee (stonewall).” (Gottman, 2015, p.42)
To manage body language, it's important to find personal solutions that work for each individual. Taking deep breaths and using open gestures can help soften even the toughest conversations.
No Mind-Reading Masterclass Required
Don't expect your partner to decipher unspoken thoughts magically. Communicate your needs and desires clearly and directly. Remember, they can't read your mind (yet!).
Feedback for Growth, Not Judgment
When offering feedback, focus on specific behaviors rather than personal attacks. Phrase it as suggestions for improvement, not harsh criticisms. Think, “How can we both grow from this?”
Humor, the Relationship Vaccine
A well-timed joke or playful banter can lighten the mood. Gottman (2015) calls these actions “repair attempts” and defines them as “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” (p. 27)
Laughter can bring people closer. Some methods that may work are tickling, making a funny face, or bringing up a humorous moment. Timing is important, as is knowing your partner's humor style. And it's generally best to avoid humor when tensions are high.
Make “We Time” a Priority
Schedule regular quality time together, free from distractions. Whether it's a romantic dinner, a hike in the park, or simply cuddling on the couch, dedicate time to connect and nurture your bond. This dedication to each other speaks volumes in terms of healthy communication.
Embrace the Uncomfortable
Don't shy away from tough conversations. Addressing difficult topics openly and honestly can strengthen your relationship and build trust.
Forgive (And Move On)
Holding onto grudges is like carrying a heavy backpack on a sunny day. Forgive your partner and yourself for past mistakes, and focus on moving forward together.
Celebrate the Wins (Big and Small)
Relationships aren't just about weathering storms; they're about celebrating sunshine too! Acknowledge and celebrate each other's successes, big or small. Sharing joy strengthens the bond.
Remember, You're a Team
Approach challenges with a collaborative spirit, and remember, there's no “I” in “team.” Communication is a two-way street, so encourage healthy habits. With practice and patience, your communication skills will blossom, nurturing the love that grows within.
Wisdom on Relationship Success Shared By Long-term Couples
People who've experienced long-term happy relationships have wisdom gained through experience.
- Here's what couples say about what makes their long-term relationships work.