Everyone’s heard the key to a successful relationship is good communication. Nevertheless, when you and your partner try to communicate, you just end up in an argument that sometimes goes around and round with no end in sight. So how do you even start to communicate in order to work through the other problems too? Well, the first step is to start communicating to actually understand your partner.
Now, communication is not just verbally speaking. Communication is verbal, non-verbal, and reflected in how you listen to your partner. So, to communicate with understanding, all three of these have to be addressed. Here are three tips to communicate with the intention of understanding to get you and your partner on the right track!
1.Communicate Verbally To Understand
Now, when your partner is communicating their feelings and perspective to you, they don’t want to hear your perspective right after. There is space for you to communicate your feelings and perspective, but start with communicating understanding of what your partner just said. Vocalize that you heard what they had to say. Ask questions if something is feeling unclear about what they said. If you immediately respond with your opinion, it’s going to be perceived as being defensive.
So, remind yourself that you are focusing to communicate back understanding of their reality, not your reality. Using statements such as, “I hear that you feel…” and asking clarifying questions such as, “can you tell me more about [this]…” can be a helpful starting point. Additionally, think about your tone and volume when you are communicating with your partner. A harsh tone or loud volume of voice can communicate an attack/defense rather than communication of understanding.
2.Communicate Non-Verbally To Understand
What are you doing when your partner is trying to communicate their feelings or opinions with you? Are you looking at them? Or, are you appearing to be disengaged by looking elsewhere? Or, are you appearing to be distracted by another thought or electronic device? Non-verbal communication is what you are doing and showing with your body to indicate that you are listening.
To communicate non-verbally to understand, lean-in to your partner, make eye contact, put away distractions, gently touch them if appropriate, etc. If you communicate verbally that you understand, but don’t show this non-verbally (with how your body reacts) then your partner is not going to feel understood.
In order to understand your partner and for them to understand you, both of you have to communicate by listening to understand. Therefore, you listen to understand opposed to listen to respond. First, think about what helps you feel listened to. How do you show your partner that you listen to them? Do you interject them when they are communicating with you? Do you grunt in some way when they start to say something that you don’t agree with? Or how about, do you roll your eyes in response to them?
Listening to understand requires you to focus on the first two steps together. Think about your reactions to your partner as they are communicating. Focus on avoiding judgment of their feelings or opinions when you’re listening to them. Pay attention to how you look to them. Do you look invested in what they have to say? Could they say that it felt you were nonjudgmental?
Last, in order to listen to understand, focus on removing your thoughts about the situation and what you what to say to defend yourself. Instead, focus your attention to them and processing what they are telling you.
Are you ready to start communicating to understand? Better communication starts with an understanding. And, YOU can make the first steps in this process! Try communicating verbally, non-verbally, and by listening to understand your partner. Not only will this increase understanding, but it will also help your relationship long-term to work through conflicts that arise.
Amanda Cummins is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She focuses on working with couples in distress as well as families and children in transitions. As a Denver Native, Amanda enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her family