Three Steps for Improving Communication in A Relationship
The more time we spend with another person, the greater our connection to them grows. We learn more about who they are, the things they like, and what makes them tick. In turn, another person gets to learn more about us. As a relationship grows, behavioral, emotional, and thinking habits begin to form. Some of these habits are helpful, such as knowing when to comfort someone and when to give them space. Our brains love patterns; helpful habits save us time! We don’t have to think critically through every aspect of our relationship. Instead, we get to spend more time paying attention to the parts of our relationship that bring us joy.
Unfortunately, the same patterns of thinking and behaving that save us time and bring us joy are also capable of hurting us if we don’t tend to them. When habits (either ours or our partner’s) become unhelpful, we get frustrated. Relationships can then become taxing and even simple daily interactions can be stressful.
One of the more popular patterns addressed in relationship counseling is communication. Communication is often the easiest unhelpful pattern to identify in a relationship, since many fights are loud displays of inefficient communication. If you are interested in starting to work on communication within your own relationship, a good place to begin is increasing emotional understanding. This means trying your best to show your partner you understand what they are feeling. It also means using your words to help your partner understand how you feel.
Think of this starting point as turning the lights on inside of a messy room. Even if the mess still requires a lot of work, at least you can see clearly and avoid tripping over things. Problem solving, planning, and compromise can all come later. Here are three steps to get your and your partner started with increasing your use of effective communication:
1) Ask yourself how you feel. This can seem deceptively simple, but don’t be fooled. You may be used to feeling emotions, but how often do you describe them? Try finding some words that accurately describe how you are feeling.
2) Use “I statements.” Once you have the words to describe how you feel, try communicating them by saying “I feel ______.” This can be highly personalized so it does not sound so robotic. Just be careful not to fall into the trap of using “I feel like you _____.”
3) Practice reflective listening. Reflective listening helps show your partner that you understand and care about how they feel. This can be done by restating what they say in your own words and asking for more information to fill in the blanks. Don’t be afraid to give this more than one shot, sometimes your first shot may require some editing. Be patient, too. Sometimes your partner may not have a solid grasp on how they feel in the moment.
The challenge with these steps comes in both practice and personalizing them so they work in your relationship. Everyone interacts a little differently, so just like any skill, these initial steps in communication work will require some tweaking until they feel right.
Relationships often require work. Couples counseling and therapy are great ways to make that work more manageable and give you direction. The steps listed here can be a starting point for you and your partner, but communication is not always the only thing getting in the way of the relationship you want.
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