For various reasons, it can be difficult to communicate effectively with your partner. But communicating in your relationship doesn’t have to be a daily frustration.
The foundation: communication skills
Specific conversational skills can reliably increase feelings of understanding and connection. A focus on expressive speaking and empathetic listening can go a long way for difficult conversations with your partner.
Speaking to your partner:
- Start with what is working — expressing your appreciation may make your partner more receptive to your thoughts
- Ground criticisms in behavior — noting specific examples can provide your partner with something concrete to consider, whereas generalizations are harder to address effectively
- Focus on how to change — gently suggesting a starting point for how to reach your positive goal can help focus the conversation on the more positive future
Listening to your partner:
- Active listening — no opinions or advice; just listen
- Being empathetic — try to imagine their experience and understand where they are coming from
- Clarifying and summarizing — checking in to see that you understand what your partner is expressing
These skills resolve communication problems, increasing respect, openness, and positivity in your relationship.
Create comfort in conversation
Generally speaking, there are a few things you can do to make your conversational partner feel comfortable:
- Speak in private
- Sit down
- Avoid awkward silence
- Be polite and direct
- Be an active listener
However, it is important to note that each individual has their own preferred style of communication. Watch out for what your partner does and doesn’t like. For example, do they feel shy when you stare them straight in the eye during difficult discussions? Do they move away if you touch their arm?
Paying attention to what makes your partner comfortable in conversation can help you have difficult discussions without additional stressors.
Make each other feel loved
To communicate with even less chance of creating conflict, you can focus on making your partner more secure in your romantic relationship. When people feel safe, happy, and loved, they’re more willing to work through difficult discussions.
Helping your partner feel cared for and secure involves thinking about how they expect and experience love. Both upbringing and personality affect our expectations of what love looks like. You probably received love in a different way from your partner, growing up; and you may have experienced the same things differently because of your own individual quirks.
There are inevitable differences between how people expect to give and receive affection – when you ‘speak’ one version of love, and your partner ‘speaks’ another, trouble communicating can arise.
Your partner might feel more love from words of affirmation versus gifts. Or maybe they feel loved most from a peck on the cheek, instead of through long conversations and quality time.
You might feel disappointed when your partner doesn’t frequently, verbally express how much they care about you. But in their mind, they’re screaming “I love you” by doing the dishes every night without question. Here, you expect verbal expression of love, and your partner thinks the best expression is through acts of service.
Fixing the love language problem
The answer to this problem lies somewhere in the middle. Partners can work together to understand the differences between each others’ expectations in loving relationships. Think of it this way: a little extra effort to give your partner what they need, will give them the energy and motivation to do the same for you.
Think about the ways in which your partner has expressed their care for you, and try to notice and appreciate them whenever they happen. If you prefer words of affirmation but find that your partner prefers gifts, try getting them a small token that shows you’re thinking of them.
Communicate with your partner to establish how each of you prefer to experience and express love. It may be that your partner simply is not aware that you have different needs than they do, and a simple explanation on your part may do the trick.
Understand their struggle
Have you ever heard the expression “Leave it at the door”? Unfortunately, it can be difficult for partners to entirely separate their personal frustrations from their relationship.
When your partner says something that is difficult for you to hear, take a second to think about why they are feeling negative. There are likely other factors in their life that could be skewing how they express themselves to you. Any of these factors could provide a potential starting point for addressing the core of the issue.
The line between their problems and yours
However, it is important to remember that there is a line to respect in how much they should let their life’s stresses impact your relationship. After you try to understand what is affecting your partner, express how you feel about the situation.
In a healthy relationship, your partner should reciprocate your consideration and work on separating external issues from your relationship. On the other hand, here are some warning signs of emotional abuse:
- Lack of remorse
- Withholding affection
- Attempts to exert control
- Focus on blame over improvement
- Not respecting partner’s views or feelings
Respond, don’t react
Frustration clouds our reasoning. Instead of allowing your emotions to control your reaction to a situation, take some time to cool off before doing anything.
In our brains, the prefrontal cortex controls our logic and decision-making. The limbic system is activated by emotion. Normally, the prefrontal cortex inhibits emotional reactivity from the limbic system. However, when emotions run high, it may make sense to give your brain a break. Allowing your system to adjust back to normal allows you to use logic and reasoning in your discussion and to avoid being ruled by your emotions.
Therefore, it is important to first disengage and reflect after an argument. People have found various effective ways to calm themselves down. Some may take a few deep breaths before making a response. Others practice mindfulness, which decreases emotional reactivity. It can also be helpful to have a go-to statement when you feel emotional, for example — “I’m feeling a little clouded right now, so I think it’s best if we table this for a couple of hours before we talk about it.”
In summary: ground rules
When communicating with your partner, remember these ground rules:
- Remember what is important to them
- Respect their thoughts and feelings
- Try to empathize with them and understand what they are saying
- Focus on initiating positive change rather than lamenting the negatives
- Pay attention to their comfort and adjust accordingly
- Cool down before speaking if you feel your emotions taking over
Good communication will go a long way toward a happy, healthy relationship!