Communication in Relationships Can Be Challenging for Many Couples.
Problems with communication in relationships can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, arguments and, over time, a reduction in connection and closeness.
On the other hand, good (and even great) communication in relationships results in maintaining closeness and trust and being able to positively resolve different points of view on important issues.
So, you might be wondering: What makes the critical difference in healthy communication in relationships, particularly in yours? I’ll help you understand the elements of effective communication with your partner and how to help each other break through to a new level of understanding.
The Important Role of Feedback
Think of a time when you were encountering road repair, and there are signs posted to warn that there are no lane lines. You likely slowed down and became more conscious of keeping your car in line. It was harder, though, because those lane lines are really helpful.
Providing feedback to our partner is like those lines in the road. We can gently let our partner or spouse know when he or she is hurting our feelings or when we feel ignored or unimportant.
Also, we can let them know when they are on target with us: It’s vital to also tell our partner when they are doing something that is important to us and meaningful. This is how good communication in relationships encourages our partner and lets them know their actions truly matter and make a difference.
The Important Bond with Our Partner
A main key to maintaining a healthy relationship is understanding the attachment we form with our partner. This “bond” is what draws us to him or her and is the root of our strong desire to stay close and connected, to feel important to our partner and to reach for our partner in times of both need and joy.
Children develop a powerful bond with their parents. Too, adults form a powerful bond when we fall in love. These attachments are hard-wired into humans; we will seek to be close to another from infancy until old age. And, as adults, we will value our partner’s attention and caring above all others.
Maintaining this bond can have challenges. When we’re upset with our partner, we may not be telling them in a productive way about what we need. We’re not giving them those “lines on the road” that help our partner know how to please us. Maybe we hope things will get better (but our partner doesn’t know we’re upset); then, when there’s no change, we may get angry and/or argue.
Disappointment Is, Actually, Inevitable in Our Relationships!
When we are close and relying on our partner for emotional connection, there will be times of misunderstanding. It’s part of being a couple. We’re two different human beings, with different backgrounds.
You can look at it this way: If you’re going to dance close with your partner, at times you might unintentionally step on their toes. Or our toes get stepped on as well.
Hurt feelings can result from our partner forgetting something important to us, not understanding our needs and not responding to us in the way we’d like, or not picking up on a cue that we need them.
So, it’s very important we learn to let our partner know how we feel and what we need.
Guidelines for Positive Communication in Relationships
Giving our partner feedback provides them with a deeper understanding — and with those essential “lines in the road” to what is truly meaningful for us.
Helping our partner understand the impact of their actions provides those guidelines.
Positive feedback can include:
- Expressing thanks and appreciation sincerely and often
- Letting your partner know the true meaning of their action
- Maybe adding the deeper “why”
You might say, “I felt so reassured and important to you when you decided against going out with your coworkers on Friday because you know I’ve been stressed lately.”
Or: “Thank you for remembering my mother’s birthday and for all the things you did to make it special for her. I really felt you understood how hard it is for us to celebrate since Dad passed away.”
Now, Expressing Hurt or Disappointment
I know this is much harder for most couples. We don’t want to hurt our partner’s feelings or, worse, create an argument.
Yet, giving our partner insight into what really matters to us is vital for healthy communication in relationships.
Therefore, letting our partner know that his or her actions bother us includes:
- Setting aside time to talk when there are no distractions, and you are both willing (not tired, hungry, etc.)
- Starting with the emotion you feel and avoiding beginning with “when you . . .” (This often puts our partner in a defensive mode) Thus, you might begin with, “I’m feeling sad because I wanted more of a surprise for our anniversary rather than our usual celebration. We’ve been so busy lately, I think I needed to feel special. And, perhaps, I should have let you know earlier. (More about this in my next article!)
- Allow your partner to respond. What are their thoughts and feelings?
- Make a request and include the meaning — and thank them for understanding. “Next time, I’ll try to let you know what I need. I’m so glad we could discuss this and that you understand me.”
Important! The Benefit of the Doubt
Sometimes, in the absence of information or if we’re feeling less connected with our partner, we may assume our partner has a negative intent. These “negative assumptions” can take over when our emotions are high. First, ask yourself what you might have done differently to connect or prevent a problem.
I believe couples rarely intend to be hurtful or neglectful to each other. Then, it’s critically important to examine whether we have created our own negative assumptions about our partner’s actions before seeking to understand what he or she was thinking.
When we approach our partner with a positive, curious mindset, we’re nurturing our connection — and we’re helping our partner understand us in a new way. We’re respecting our bond . . . and deepening our understanding and connection.
For more on communication in relationships:
How to Control Anger in Relationships
If you’d like to chat about what your options are for working with one of our skilled couples therapists here in Denver, visit our calendar to see who’s available for a chat or a complimentary consultation.