Imagine trying to develop a healthy, strong relationship with someone who didn't speak the same language as you - an uphill battle, to say the least! That's why communication is so important to lasting, loving relationships. From sharing fears and feelings to facing the challenges of military life, good communication is key to staying close and growing together. If you think you and your partner could use some help in that area, read on for tips on how - and how often - to speak to one another, how to help your partner open up and more.
Communicating well-the basics
Communicating well is one of the most important skills any couple can have. Poor communication is a frequent complaint of couples who split up and can be a source of frustration and conflict for those who stay together. To help you avoid those kinds of problems in your own relationship, work with your partner to learn and practice these basic communication techniques:
- Make time to talk to each other. Try to spend some time each day talking to each other over a meal, after work or before bed. This is so important that some busy couples find it helpful to mark time to talk in their calendars. Some individuals report that just talking for as little as 15 minutes a day can help keep a relationship strong.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. One of the joys of being part of a couple is having someone with whom you can share your deepest thoughts and feelings. After a while, you may fall into a rut. If this happens, make an extra effort to talk about the things that matter most to you.
- Listen carefully. Good communication involves not just speaking clearly but listening closely. This kind of active listening means giving each other full attention and not interrupting. When you're talking about something important, turn off the television or radio and let phone calls go to voicemail.
- Show that you understand what you've heard. It's important not just to listen, but also to make it clear that you've heard what the other person is telling you. You can do this by repeating back what you've heard through phrases such as, "So what you're saying is..." or "I want to make sure I understand you correctly. You feel that..."
- Offer frequent praise, support, and encouragement. Studies show that couples who stay together make far more positive comments to each other than negative ones. You might try to find something to praise every day, even if you've said similar things before.
- Write notes or send email or text messages. Some fun examples include leaving a note on the car seat that says, "I love you" or "Good luck with your presentation!" Send emails, text messages or "I miss you" cards when your spouse is away.
- Pay attention to your body language. Communication involves a lot more than just words. Pay attention to what your posture, stance and facial expressions are conveying.
Talking about difficult subjects
At some point, every couple will need to talk about a difficult or painful subject. These tips can make the conversation easier:
- Have the conversation at a stress-free time. Avoid bringing up a sensitive issue when either of you is tired, hungry or pressed for time. You'll also want to avoid talking about some issues when children might overhear.
- Keep your sense of humor. Studies show that couples with strong relationships use a lot of humor, which can break tension and help couples connect through stress and pressure.
- Bring up one difficult subject at a time. Raising a lot of sensitive issues in the same conversation can leave the other person feeling confused and defensive, especially if you haven't mentioned them before.
- Make "I" statements. Be specific about how you feel instead of making generalizations about the other person. Avoid phrases such as, "You never," "You always," or "You're so..." that put people on the defensive. Instead, express your own feelings with more neutral comments, such as, "I feel," "I'm concerned that," or "I'm worried that..."
- Talk about the issue, not who is right or wrong. Focus on finding a solution instead of assigning blame.
- Acknowledge the other person's point of view. Acknowledging isn't agreeing. Your partner will probably appreciate you making the effort to show you are listening and understand, even if you don't agree.
- Take a break if needed. Take a break of about 15 minutes if your conversation becomes so heated that either or both of you are on the verge of saying things you'll regret.
- Look into counseling if you can't resolve your disagreements. If your discussions seem to make things worse instead of better, consider talking to a therapist or a couples counselor for help with communication. Some couples need only a few sessions to begin seeing improvements in how they relate to each other.
Helpful things to say when you're having trouble communicating
Sometimes just a few small changes in what you say can make a big difference in how well you communicate as a couple. Here are some ideas using "I" statements:
- Instead of saying, "You never call when you're going to come home late," try saying, "I'd like you to call when you won't be home so that I can adjust my schedule."
- Instead of saying, "Why did you buy a flat-screen TV without telling me first?" try saying, "When you buy expensive things without consulting me, I feel that my opinion doesn't matter to you."
- Instead of saying, "Don't expect me to clean the house," try saying "I have a very busy week, so if you want to have your friends over to watch the game on Saturday, you'll need to clean the house."
When your partner won't open up
You may want to take some additional steps if your partner frequently won't open up or seems to tune you out when you try to communicate.
- Avoid making assumptions. At times you may think your partner doesn't want to talk because he or she is angry or upset with you. However, there may be something else - like an incident at work - that is upsetting your partner.
- Consider your spouse's family background. In some families, serious conversations turn into major arguments quickly. If your partner comes from this kind of family, he or she may worry that you'll become very angry or even walk out if he or she speaks honestly - especially if your partner's parents often acted in this way. You can help by setting a good example. Stay calm and reassure your partner that you love him or her even when you disagree.
- Remember that some people find it hard to open up because they are afraid of rejection. Think about a time when it was difficult for you to bring up a new idea at work or to say what you thought at a meeting. Even if you liked and respected your supervisor and co-workers a lot, you may have wondered what they would think if you expressed your views honestly. Your partner may sometimes have a similar reaction when you try to get him or her to open up at home.
If you have ongoing difficulty communicating with your partner, you may want to look into couples counseling. A counselor may be able to show you new ways of communicating that will make it easier for both you and your partner to express your feelings honestly.
Military OneSource can provide you with further resources and help you connect with a non-medical counselor. Additionally, military and family life counselors are available to provide non-medical counseling services. You can contact them through your installation's military and family support center.
Establishing good communication can take a lot of patience and hard work. Try not to get upset if you or your partner slip back into old habits. The important thing is making a commitment to change the way you communicate and working toward this goal.