One of the biggest complaints I hear from couples is that the communication in their relationship is in dire need of fixing. I am often told from my couples that it seems as if their partner no longer “gets them” and they feel as if daily arguments have become the new norm that they cannot figure out how to overcome. These couples come to therapy desperately seeking more effective ways to resolve conflict and reconnect with their partner. Whether it is miscommunication, lack of communication, or simply not understanding how to talk about the “tough stuff” in the relationship, practicing the following couples communication guidelines can drastically change and improve the interactions with your spouse or partner.
Timing is everything when discussing difficult issues
While this is not new, couples often overlook this crucial detail in their communication dynamic.
- While it may seem difficult, giving one another some space to calm down, regroup, and return to the conversation at a later point in time is beneficial when discussing “hot” or difficult issues. I tell my couples that if they feel they are ramping up and losing their temper, call for a break, walk away, and come back at a designated time.
- I recommend that couples take no longer than 24 hours to return from their break.
- The partner who called the time-out must be the one to re-initiate the conversation.
- The partner who did not ask for a break must respect the other partner’s wish to step away, knowing that if the conversation continues in a heated moment, their communication will only deteriorate more rapidly and most likely cause more damage.
- Regularly scheduled check-in (at least once each week) can also be a great way to structure more difficult issues and allow some space and time before discussing them.
When feelings aren’t addressed first, couples communication can suffer. It is imperative to:
- understand your significant other’s feelings
- validate their feelings
- utilize active listening skills
- Go one step further than simply saying “I understand.”
- Be specific as to how you understand their feelings. If you have felt a similar way or have had a similar experience, you can relay your understanding and care for your partner’s feelings. Saying something like, “I completely understand feeling unappreciated by my boss at work and I never want to make you feel that way in our relationship,” can demonstrate that feelings are heard and understood.
When both parties feel that they are heard and their feelings are tended to, much of the tension can be defused and resolution can be achieved more effectively.
Pay Attention to Your Tone and Language
A conversation can drastically change if the tone of your voice is unpleasant. The tone of voice you choose can either communicate care and concern, or it can communicate resentment and bitterness. So often couples communication is derailed because the “tone” of the conversation is negative. Negative tone causes important messages to slip through the cracks and leads to misinterpretation of information.
The language you choose to use is just as important as using a calm tone of voice. I recommend eliminating these three communication styles from your interactions with your partner. Ditch:
- All name calling from your vocabulary with one another
- Any language that belittles or undermines your partner.
- Yelling and screaming as a means to get your point across.
Sticking to these three rules of tone and language promotes understanding and decreases distress and defensiveness. This might be difficult to do in the heat of the moment, which is why it is so important to time your conversations at appropriate times.
Communication is More than Words
Communicating your love and care through your actions is vital and is just as important as the words you choose in your relationship. While communicating in a calm and open manner during difficult times is extremely important, so is showing your love on a regular basis.
- Give your partner small gestures to demonstrate that you notice and appreciate them. Perhaps a note in your partner’s lunch, a meaningful playlist of your favorite songs, planning a date, or tackling a household task that they have wanted to accomplish.
- Be specific in your compliments to your partner. Let them know what specifically you love about them: their enthusiasm, their thoughtfulness, their charisma; it will communicate that you are invested in them and in your relationship!
- Learn about your own and your partner’s love languages and demonstrate your love how your partner feels loved and ask for what you need.
Remember, your nonverbal communication is just as vital as the verbal. Actions often speak louder than words.