Communication is a fundamental pillar in any relationship – especially romantic relationships. The success of your relationship is determined by how well you can communicate your needs and actively listen to the needs of your partner. Ineffective communication patterns often lead to conflict and misunderstandings because without the right skills, your needs remain unmet.
When either partner is unable to identify and share their feelings or needs, the chance for resolution is eliminated. This is what tears away at the union. Effective communication skills are a combination of skills and strategies that require each person to learn and apply them consistently. These skills will save your relationship from hours of misunderstandings, disagreements, and conflict.
Components of Communication
Communication is deceptively simple. We all listen and talk – but the presumption that we do these things effectively is grossly inaccurate. Body language and verbal language are our primary methods for acquiring and sharing information as humans. And yet, without intentional effort, we fail miserably.
Before we discuss what it means to develop effective communication skills, let’s first start with the basics. Communication involves a speaker, a listener, and information. In other words, it involves activity and actors. I liken communication to children on a seesaw. Without coordination and mutual understanding, someone is bound to get hurt or be uncomfortable.
Healthy communication requires that we are effective as both a speaker and a listener. As the speaker, we are responsible for introducing or sharing information. This can be verbal or non-verbal. As a listener, we must receive and observe the information. Together, we must process that information.
7 Communication Pitfalls and Bad Habits
1. The Silent Treatment
Individuals within a relationship try to exert control within their relationship by not speaking to their partner, which creates an emotional distance in order to provoke a reaction.
Failure to express one’s feelings is a form of silent treatment and can be used to hurt the other partner, which is also known as stonewalling. Men generally respond to silent treatment from their partner by waving the white flag and surrendering, while women generally tend to move closer and overly communicate to change the undesired behavior.
2. Disparaging Comments and Insults
Individuals use verbal comments to hurt their partner and to protect what they have perceived to be hurt during an argument. For example, if you know that your partner deals with a certain phobia, it would be unnecessarily hurtful to say something like, “You’re always scared; you need to be a man! Who raised you to be so fearful?”
People use insults like these an alternate form of communication instead of expressing their feelings of hurt caused by someone in or out of the relationship. Using disparaging comments and insults as a form of communication is a display of emotional and verbal abuse, and could linger within the relationship long after the conversation has ended.
3. Yelling and Screaming
Using this form of communication within a relationship drowns the message and creates additional issues that distract the couple from the original conflict or issue. It’s not what you say but how you say it that is so very important. Yelling and screaming is a clear sign of emotional dysregulation from the individual performing that particular behavior.
4. Not Asking for What You Need or Want
Assuming that your partner knows and understands your thoughts is a recipe for having unmet needs, hurt feelings, and complete misunderstanding. A closed mouth doesn’t get fed. It is the responsibility of the person with the unmet needs to properly express those needs to increase the chance of the partner gaining an understanding of your needs and then meeting them.
It is never a good idea to listen to half the message but act as if it is entirely factual. This unfortunate pitfall will have the speaker believe you are listening, which will delay the issue getting resolved because the listener is only receiving a certain portion of the entire message.
6. Wrong Time and Place
There is a time and place to have certain conversations due to the nature of the subject and to add appropriate privacy for the couple. If a conversation begins in an undesired location, the message is likely to be completely missed as the listener will check out and focus on the inappropriateness instead of the presenting issue.
Assumptions take place when one or both parties inside the relationship accepts something as truth without verifying. This is the opposite of compassion. Every conversation should have two sides. Checking in with your partner to see if they are actively listening is another form of respect and shows that you are trying to get it right instead of trying to be right.
Effective Communication Skills and Strategies
1. Be Mindful
Always stay in the moment (good or bad) while examining your actions, thoughts, and words toward your partner.
2. Practice Active Listening
Be present, attentive, and focused when it’s time to listen to your partner. Reflective listening is a great way to reassure your partner that you are engaged and interested in what they are saying. For example, saying “I heard you when you said that whenever I don’t make eye contact with you it feels dismissive and you feel less connected.”
This allows your partner to feel that their feelings are being received, and it also provides them the opportunity to add more detail or clarify anything that was said, if necessary. There should be no distractions that may interfere with your conversation. Ensure phones, computers, and TVs are off to maximize the information that is retained.
3. Speak Clearly and with Clarity
Always express the issue or complaint along with a suggestion for action or change. “I did not like how you left the dishes in the sink. It makes me feel like I am doing everything around the house. I would love for you to wash the dishes that you use each night to help me save time in the morning.”
4. Seek Understanding
Seeking understanding allows for relationship investments in that both parties can go as deep as they need to in order to find out the “whys” behind every question and action. “I want to ask you about your comment when you said, ‘I feel frustrated with you for not responding properly. Can you explain that?’” This additional information will provide you with more facts before you respond or make the necessary changes.
5. Use “I” Statements
Using “I” statements provides both individuals with a level of compassion and reassurance that your partner is taking accountability for their part in the conflict or problem.
“I should have taken the extra ten minutes and washed the dishes last night so that you could have used that time for yourself this morning.” This skill of controlling what you can control leaves no doubt that your partner has been heard and that you two are truly working together within the relationship.
6. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions prevent the conversation from being stopped prematurely with a simple “yes” or “no.” Saying “Did you hear me?” leaves no further room for dialogue and understanding, versus “Tell me how you feel about what I just said.” The second option allows your partner to express feelings while giving you an opportunity to clarify facts and stay on topic.
7. Validate Feelings
Validating feelings and communicating that your partner has been heard will contribute to your relationship’s transparency and honesty. This will eliminate your partner from shutting down or feeling unheard. For example, “What I heard you say was that you felt alone in the chores around the house because I left the dishes in the sink. Is that right?” There should always be a focus on the feelings, not the behavior, as the feelings will evoke change.
Results of Effective Communication Skills
Effective communication skills are a must for any healthy relationship. The identification of poor communication is just as important as the use of effective communication skills.
Ultimately, effective communication skills will build:
1. The desire for your partner, because you see each other as solution seekers and not as adversaries
2. Trust because of the nurturing skills used to address feelings and respect the feelings of others
3. Intimacy as each person is looking at the other’s point of view and fighting as teammates against the problem with the goal of getting it right instead of being right.
Whether you want to discuss something trivial or traumatic, these strategies and principles will help you get your message across. All social attachments and bonds are born from communication, but effective communication skills make the difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic one.
As you and your partner continue to practice these strategies and skills, it will become easier to identify your needs and meet the needs of your partner. A healthy relationship requires healthy communication.
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