As a couple’s therapist, I so often come across this common complaint; “Etta, we don’t know how to talk to each other! We have communication problems!” After a few minutes of observing the couple talk to one another, it becomes apparent that the issue is not that they do not know how to talk to one another (because there is a lot of talking going on!), but the struggle lies in the way they talk and hear each other.
Feeling like your partner does not hear you or understand you can be incredibly frustrating and often results in relational struggle. When you do not feel heard or understood, it feels like your partner doesn’t care about what you have to say. This then can lead to thinking “if they don’t care about what I’m saying, then they must not care about me!” The reality is that everyone wants to be heard and understood. By practicing these three tips, you and your partner can increase effective communication and increase your connection!
Life can be so busy and technology has allowed us to “communicate” at all hours of the day. Texting, emailing and quick phone calls feels like a quicker and easier way of talking to your partner. This works great if you are reminding your partner to pick up the kids from school or are texting a grocery list. This type of “communication” suggests that you do not need to have face-to-face conversations with your partner to get your needs met… and yet you are still feeling frustrated!
When you communicate all day virtually, it can be hard to make the transition to being home together. Thus, I often hear from couple’s that when they are in the same physical space, technology is still a barrier between them. So take the time to sit down, face one another and then talk! You will be surprised at the difference it makes when your partner is looking at you and not their phone, tablet, or t.v. This “simple” connection will hopefully result in you feeling important, heard and remind you that this type of communication leads to connection.
With couples who have been together for a longer period of time, unspoken expectations and assumptions start to arise. I hear statements such as “she should have known that I needed help putting the kids to bed,” or “it was obvious that I had a hard day at work. I should not have had to tell him!” When you become comfortable with someone (which is not a bad thing!), you assume that they can read your mind. Unfortunately I have yet to meet someone who can read minds, which leaves us with the need to be direct with what we are wanting to say and what we need.
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for what you need. When you care about someone, you often want to give them what they need – you are not a burden! It is hard to give when you are not sure what is needed or expected of you! So instead of making rude comments under your breath while getting the kids into their pajamas, try saying something along the lines of “hey babe, would you comes help me get the kids ready for bed?” If you are direct with your partner (in a loving way of course!) frustrations surrounding unmet expectations or unspoken assumptions will decrease. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with how your needs will be met if you take the time to be direct!
Hellos and Goodbyes
Like I mentioned before, life can be busy and feel overwhelming at times and we forget to prioritize our partners. Try to prioritize one another by making a routine out of saying hello and goodbye to one another FIRST (even before the dog or kids). This simple act tells your partner that you care about them and that they are important to you.
This interaction in the morning sets the stage for the rest of the day. The first person you greeted when you woke up is your partner and the last person you say goodbye/goodnight to is your partner. You are a team and you make a statement of this by starting and ending your days together. This increases security within the relationship. Also, by introducing this into your daily routine, you are more likely to have face-to-face conversations at the end of the day. Instead of walking in the door and going and immediately turning on the t.v. or starting dinner, you greet one another and check in, thus hopefully starting a conversation! I hope you find these tips helpful, and as always I am here to help support and facilitate effective communication between you and your loved ones!
Etta Skoch is a marriage counselor with the Marriage and Family Clinic who specializes in couples counseling, intimacy counseling and LGBTQ counseling.