Communication. You do it everyday with countless people. So why is it when it comes to communicating with the person that is closest to you – something inevitably goes wrong? As a marriage and family therapist I have met with many couples and the number one complaint I hear from them is…poor communication. Poor communication usually translates to, my partner isn’t hearing or is not understanding my relationship wants and needs.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one communication skill that will fix all communication woes. There are, however, tips and tools that when used by you and your partner, can put you on a path to have those long, meaningful, romantic comedy type conversations that you have been dreaming of. Whether you dream of movie worthy conversations or simply being able to stay on the same page for at least a 5 minute conversation, these tips will help.
The old mantra, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it” certainly applies to conversations you have with your partner. When preparing to start a conversation take a minute to think of a kind and gentle way to begin. When you effectively prime the pump you will be pleasantly surprised by your partner’s response. For instance, “I am sick of always having to fold and put away all of the laundry” is a pretty harsh way to start a conversation. John Gottman, who has researched and worked with couples for over 40 years would recommend you soften your startup. You could instead start with, “I know you probably haven’t even thought about the laundry lately. It just gets overwhelming sometimes to be the primary laundry folded. Could we maybe share folding duty?” It takes a little more effort to start a conversation gently, but the more gentle the start, the more receptive your partner will be. Think…more flies with honey.
Positivity Goes a Long Way
When communicating with your partner it’s helpful to focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want. Like many of us, you may find it more natural to identify and name what your partner is doing that you don’t like instead of what he/she is doing that you do like. For example, “I wish you wouldn’t come home and plop down in front of the TV” could instead be “I really enjoy when you come home and we spend time cooking or eating together”. Both versions will adequately get your point across. However the latter will be better received by your partner and is less likely to start an argument.
It is also important to focus on the positive when giving a compliment. I know, you’re probably thinking of course a compliment is positive. But how many times as a well intentioned complement been received by a less than pleased recipient. A compliment needs to be kind, sincere, and without judgement. “Thank you for finally folding the laundry” or “I’m glad you gave the kids a bath for once” tend to have a negative feel to them. Simply taking out the words finally and for once gives the compliment a much more positive feel. Complimenting without criticizing is a necessary part of effective communication. The more you criticize, the more your partner will shut down.
Psychics Are Rare
Your partner is not a psychic, or at least the odds are not in your favor that they are. No matter how long the two of you have been together or how well your partner should know you – he/she is not in your head. The reason you communicate is to let other people know what you are thinking or feeling. This goes for your partner too. The more you expect your partner to “just know…” the more you will be disappointed and the more communication struggles you will have. Speak truthfully and frankly with your partner (as if he/she hasn’t been eavesdropping on your thoughts).
Last, but not least…replace your “buts” with “ands”. This can be a simple change that you make that will dramatically reduce the defensiveness in many conversations with your partner. Nothing heightens your partner’s defensiveness like an ill placed “but”. Just when your partner thinks you are acknowledging his/her feelings, you thrown in a “but” and he throws up his guard. Notice the difference, “I understand where you’re coming from, but I…” or “I understand where you’re coming from, and I…” Using “and” instead of “but” acknowledges and hopefully empathizes with your partner’s point of view and at the same time allows you to express yours.
Communication can be hard. It can also be very rewarding and can lead to the emotional connection you and your partner are hoping for. Remember change takes time and these tips alone will not create a complete transformation. You and your partner will need to spend time practicing as well as gently reminding one another of these tips. You will both fall short at times and that is ok. Changing communication patterns is a process. Keep at it and you will get there.
About the Author
Amber Groves is a Marriage and Family Therapist and infertility specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. In her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler and a new little baby.