I have been in a few long term relationships and learning to communicating did not come easy for me. In most cases, I am afraid to speak my truth because being vulnerable is scary and it may end up hurting you either way, but trying to be someone you are not is even more scary.
I have dated guys who prefer to scream and yell, guys who prefer to be victims, guys who don’t fight at all, and guys who ignore an issue and leave me feeling rejected. The common thread is a break in communication.
There are a number of ways to repair communication that takes two people who love each other enough to try. If you want your relationship to work, communication needs to be the number one thing you work hard at together.
1. Focus on the Current Conversation
It’s so easy to start talking about something and someone brings up something that was already resolved or someone adds more conflicts to the major conflict. Suddenly the conversation goes from promising to a huge nightmare. I am certainly guilty of doing this, and often I end up being the only person hurting. In a relationship, you are two individuals who can only tackle one thing at once. If you have to bring up the other person not spending enough time with you, take it from me, don’t bring up the fact that they are spending too much time doing anything else. I am currently experiencing this and it has been a nightmare. I highly recommend you stay focused on one topic in a conversation.
2. Stop Thinking and Listen Compassionately
Everyone does this. We often start a conversation, say something, and before the other person can express themselves, we don’t hear it because we are busy thinking of how we will respond.
In order to build strong communication, it is imperative that we listen compassionately and do our best to understand. Additionally, if something upsets you, try to remember that asking questions to understand is better than assuming the worst.
3.Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
It is normal to want to be heard and understood, but the feeling is mutual. Especially in conflict, everyone is seeking some understanding and compassion. While your points are important, they also have important points they are entitled to make. Really determine if speaking out your desires is more important than allowing them to speak out their own desires. If you are only wanting them to see things your way, you might as well be dating yourself.
There are times when they also need to feel understood and other times that they need to know what they are doing is damaging to you. If you can’t give them the space to be, and they don’t see that, it might be time for couples counseling or cutting the relationship off. There is a difference between being reasonable and/or taking advantage of one another, and it is so important to understand the difference.
4. Use Empathy rather than Sympathy
Empathy is a key to good communication whether in an intimate relationship or with friends and family. Brene Brown did a great video on the concept of empathy and sympathy. In communicating with someone you care for, empathy is climbing into the dark places with the people you care for and remembering a moment in your life when you felt the way they are currently feeling.
Sympathy chooses to not connect with the person to understand why they might feel the way they feel, but rather, you are trying to say, “at least it isn’t worse,” and silver-line the person’s feelings. As this video shows, sympathy is responding to, “I had a miscarriage,” with, “Ugh at least you know you can get pregnant.” While it isn’t horrible to say, it doesn’t connect with the person’s pain and give them the compassion to feel heard and understood on their healing journey. In order to truly care for someone and be willing to understand their needs, we must find the feelings within ourselves to identify how important this situation is to them.
5. Remove Judgments & Criticisms
If someone you love says, “I am struggling because I miss spending time with you,” do not use criticisms and judgments such as, “you might be too needy for me.”
When you enter into relationship talks, there are always expectations on both ends. Starting with an intention is the best way for communication to blossom. Leave judgments and criticisms at the door. Any time someone feels judged or criticized, it makes them feel like they are not good enough for you or that the relationship isn’t making them feel good. This leads to a bad breakup or an ugly, toxic situation in which many people end up involved while you try to decide how you feel.
Often, we do this out of anger or frustration, and while we don’t mean to be mean, it is important that both partners are willing participants in communicating or the relationship does turn sour, and that may not be fixable. Just remember never to be intentionally hurtful.
6. Take Responsibility for Your Role in Situations
It’s really difficult to look at yourself in the mirror and not recognize how you are responsible for the conflicts you are in. In every situation, everyone is responsible for a part of the issue. Before starting a conversation, identify where you could have handled things differently, then explain how you feel about the other party in a non-judgmental way, while being honest about your role in the situation.
7. It’s not about Winning
If only winning was everything, however, in communication, it just isn’t. There is always a way for everyone to feel satisfied, even if the way in which it happens is through the ending of the relationship. Everyone deserves to be happy, so compromise is a must in communication. If compromising is not an option, sometimes the best thing to do is agree to a healthy and conscious uncoupling.
8. Press Pause on a Topic
When conflicts and communication start to lose their effectiveness and everyone is frustrated and unhappy, maybe it’s time to press pause. When couples take space, it doesn’t have to mean it’s over, or that you no longer talk or see each other, it could mean let’s take space from this topic for a bit.
Pressing pause is a great way to stop the derailment of a relationship and give everyone time to focus on something else. If the conflict is relating to something that affects everything, then it is okay to say, “I love you but I can’t do this right now. I want to take a break from this topic while I think about it.” Just remember that you can’t press pause, get married, have a baby, and pick up the conversation ten years later. Give a reasonable amount of time to break the topic up. Seek out counseling if the topic is getting lost and causing the relationship to fall apart.
9. Recognize Passive-Aggressive Communication
Passive-Aggressive communication is one of the four styles of communicating. Each of the communication styles has good and bad, but the passive-aggressive style of communication is difficult because it inhibits a person’s growth. According to a document by the UK Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, a passive-aggressive communicator:
– mutters to themselves rather than confront the person or issue
– has difficulty acknowledging their anger
– uses facial expressions that don’t match how they feel – i.e., smiling when angry
– uses sarcasm
– denies there is a problem
– appears cooperative while purposely doing things to annoy and disrupt
– uses subtle sabotage to get even
The impact of a pattern of passive-aggressive communication is that these individuals:https://www.uky.edu/hr/sites/www.uky.edu.hr/files/wellness/images/Conf14_FourCommStyles.pdf
– become alienated from those around them
– remain stuck in a position of powerlessness (like POWs)
– discharge resentment while real issues are never addressed so they can’t mature
Take a simple quiz, and be brutally honest, to see which type of communicator you are. Click here
10. Use Simple Language
I have worked in the web industry since 2007, and most online content is written to the level of an eighth-grader in order to score higher on the Flesch-Kincaid reading scale. With that being said, try to communicate to your partner’s level. If they are not understanding what you are saying, break it down in a way that an 8th grader would understand you. Ask them to tell you what they understood so you know where you stand.
Communication takes time to build. It also takes a strong dedication and effort from both partners. If one partner is simply not interested in communicating in a healthy way, therapy is a great place to start identifying how to resolve the breakdowns in communication, or it may be time to walk away. As Albert Eistein once said;
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”Albert Einstein
References for More Reading:
- The Four Basic Styles of Communication – UK Violence and Prevention Center
- 8 Ways to Improve Communication and Find More Fulfillment – Tony Robbins
- How to Improve your Relationship with Effective Communication Skills – Very Well Mind
- 7 Ways to Improve Communication in Relationships – Positive Psychology
- QUIZ: What’s Your Communication Style? – GlassDoor
- 17 Tactics to Drastically Improve Communication in Relationships – Lifehack
- What Reading Levels Should you Aim For? – Express Writers