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Four Tips for Improving Communication in Your Relationship

 

Many of the couples I see in my practice struggle with communication or a lack of intimacy and connection. They say that they don’t feel heard by their significant other, that they spend hours arguing without resolving anything, or it feels like they’re just roommates. Engaging in these patterns over the course of years can erode the trust, care and love that was once the foundation of the relationship. Over time, these negative interaction cycles can cause people to have a fixed idea in their mind of who their partner is. She’s the critical, demanding wife or he’s the neglectful, controlling husband. With each player typecast a certain way, it’s difficult to hear what they’re actually saying because it’s being filtered through a distorted lens. When the message intended to be sent by the speaker, isn’t the same as the message heard by the listener, communication breaks down.

 

Here are 5 tips to improve communication and connection in your relationship.

 

1.     Let your partner know what you’re thinking and feeling

 

Sounds obvious right? But couples often find that they keep more vulnerable thoughts and feelings to themselves out of fear that they could hurt their partner or the relationship. It’s easy to get comfortable with the status quo in a long-term relationship or marriage. The relationship operates on auto-pilot and the things your partner does that bother you are silently tolerated because bringing it up feels petty or you worry that it can turn into an argument. The truth is that disclosing vulnerable thoughts and feelings to your partner, even if it means risking that security, is what builds intimacy and a deeper connection. When you keep things to yourself to keep the peace, relationships become stale. Conflict, done in a healthy way, can keep the passion alive because it means that people are revealing their true selves to their intimate partner.  

 

2.     Edit out negative thoughts and verbal exchanges that are not constructive

 

Let’s say that your husband consistently comes home late from work and doesn’t call to let you know. This makes you angry and you think that he is selfish for doing this. That doesn’t mean calling him selfish is good communication because that’s what you’re thinking in the moment. Unbridled self-expression can be destructive to relationships as well.

 

A more productive way to communicate how you’re feeling is to use an I-statement which are statements that begin with the word “I” that describe how you feel or what you need or desire. Instead of saying “You’re so selfish for coming home late again and not calling,” you can say, “When you come home late and don’t call, I feel frustrated because I end up having to take care of the kids by myself and I feel alone. I need you to call me if you’re going to be late.” It’s also important to keep the conversation to one topic and avoid the temptation to bring up every instance in the past where you thought he was selfish.  

 

3.     Be an active listener  

 

If you’re the listener or on the receiving end of these statements, your natural inclination might be to become defensive. However, that is most likely going to make your partner feel unheard and will escalate the argument. Instead, be an active listener. Demonstrate to your partner that you heard what they said by paraphrasing back to them what they said. You can start this by saying, “What I heard you say is…” Try not to add in any of your own perspective or interpretation at this time. Let the focus be entirely on listening to your partner.  

 

4.     Validate your partner

 

Validating your partner means communicating to them that what they are thinking or feeling makes sense to you. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree 100% with what they are saying. You might only be able to validate a part of what they are saying. For example “It makes sense to me that you would feel alone when I don’t call and you take care of the kids by yourself. I’ll make more of an effort to call you when I’m going to be late.”

 

When finished, thank your partner for listening and ask them if they would like to reply. If so, reverse roles and one person will be the listener and the other will be the speaker.  

 

Having a structured conversation like this might feel challenging, especially in the heat of the moment or when you’re already feeling upset. Using these tools takes practice and in the beginning, it can be helpful to try using them in a neutral setting such as a couples therapist’s office, so there’s a third party who can facilitate. If you’d like to find out more about how I can help you improve communication in your relationship, please get in touch today.   

 

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