Couples have a dialogue, an ongoing exchange of feelings, experiences, thoughts, ideas, concerns and opinions. They play two roles, one that I call ‘communicator’ and the other is a ‘listener’.
Setting up clear expectations for how dialogue will happen in your relationship helps both partners to feel less vulnerable and more secure, no matter what the nature of the topic.
Working at and becoming good at communicating and listening is essential for couples who aspire to have a strong, close emotional connection.
I wrote about listening in a previous blog, Listening is an Act of Love. Now let’s take a look at what it means to communicate effectively within a relationship.
There are a variety of situations in the life of a relationship when you communicate with your partner,including:
- sharing a successful, rewarding experience or milestone
- sharing vulnerability, weakness, insecurity, failure
- giving positive feedback to your partner*
- giving negative feedback to your partner
- apologizing for hurting your partner
- making a request of your partner
*For thoughts about appreciation and thanking, please read my blog You Go First: Practicing Gratitude in Your Relationship
We often put the burden on the ‘listener’, to accept, understand and support the partner who is communicating. But if you’re the one communicating, you also have a key role in setting the tone for how the communication is presented and how the dialogue flows.
Here are a few of my recommendations for how to be a positive, effective ‘communicator’ in ways that promote a close, loving connection:
- When sharing your personal setback or a failure, be clear that you need your partner’s full attention because this will be a vulnerable moment for you. Don’t toss off a story about a challenging situation or a low, insecure mood while your partner is distracted or you are both involved in other things. Ask for dedicated time and real listening. This is also true for sharing successes and achievements. If what you’re sharing is important to you, you deserve your partner’s full attention.
- When conveying negative or sensitive feedback to your partner, bring up one issue at a time and be specific. This will be much easier for them to hear than a long list of past grievances or generalizations, like ‘you always…’.
- When expressing a perception or emotion to your partner about an issue in your relationship, try to communicate your observations without labeling or interpreting them. It is best to speak in ‘I-message’ as in: ‘I feel that, I believe that, in my experience, what would help me is, this is not comfortable for me’. You are worthy of your own feelings and point of view. And your partner is less likely to be defensive or attack if you don’t open with an assumption or a criticism.
- If you have done something that hurt your partner, take full responsibility: ‘I am asking forgiveness for hurting you, I was not OK’. Even if you didn’t mean it or were unaware of the impact of your actions, now is not the time to defend yourself or be passive (‘oh, sorry if you felt bad’).
- In any conversation, always try to see another side of the issue. Be aware of your partner’s sensitivities, perspectives, experience of the topic at hand. It will go a long way if it’s clear that you are open to more than one point of view.
- When you need your partner to do something differently or want them to support you in a particular way, express your need in the form of a specific request and not a demand. Be clear about what is bothering you and why you are making the request. Check in with your partner to see if the request is reasonable for them. Try this formula: ‘I am frustrated about… I yearn for… I request from you that…can you do that for me? ’
Communicating well in a relationship is a skill that can be practiced and mastered. Good communication will help you both feel comfortable to be honest and open with each other, and it will strengthen your connection.