If you and your partner struggle to talk to each other, you can start to feel emotionally disconnected, resentful and lonely. However, even small changes to your communication strategies can yield huge benefits that boost intimacy and make conversations much more enjoyable. Here are nine strategies that will instantly help to improve communication in your relationship.
1) Listen more carefully
Think about your listening skills and consider areas for improvement. Do you find yourself interrupting your partner, tuning out half way through a conversation or focusing primarily on what you're going to say rather than what is being said to you? If so, work to counteract these issues. Being listened to is immensely powerful, and giving your partner your full attention communicates respect, interest and care.
2) Avoid misinterpretations
Many arguments start with a misunderstanding. If you find yourself reacting negatively to something your partner says, the first step you should take involves figuring out exactly what was meant. Clearing up potential ambiguities can stop conflict before it gets started.
3) Think about the roots of negative reactions
Try to take responsibility for your feelings instead of blaming them on your partner. Your partner may have done something that has led to feelings of hurt or anger, but they haven't 'made' you lose your temper or cry. Give some thought to why you feel so bad, and think about underlying reasons why you are particularly upset. You might be especially angry about a minor forgotten commitment if you used to be with someone who was consistently irresponsible, or you may be deeply sad that your partner hasn't noticed your new outfit if you frequently battle with low self esteem.
4) Work on tact
Being diplomatic during an interpersonal conflict dramatically enhances the chances of solution. Although it's hard to stay calm in the face of strong emotions like hurt or anger, try to find constructive ways to air your grievances. For example, replace "Why do you never clean up your mess?" with "Can we talk about the chores so that we can work out a way to divide them more evenly?"
Empathy is another powerful tool in your communication kit. Taking a few moments to put yourself in your partner's shoes can give you useful insights into their perspective and illuminate underlying issues that are weighing down your relationship. For example, perhaps your partner is highly insecure because a parental divorce has taught them that relationships are always fragile, or maybe stress at work is making everything at home seem insurmountable.
6) Don't withdraw from your partner
When things get difficult, it can be tempting to withdraw and refuse to talk to your partner about the situation. However, people who have this response seldom realize just how paralyzing and disempowering it is to be on the receiving end of stonewalling. It can make your partner feel frightened and abandoned, and it can encourage steady repression of negative feelings in the hopes that you will not withdraw. Since repressing feelings typically leads to a bigger confrontation further down the line, stonewalling is not a good tactic. Instead, try to compose yourself, face your fears and actually talk to your partner about what is going on.
7) Keep a balanced perspective
It's important to talk to your partner about the good as well as the bad. Make time to compliment each other, reminisce about old times, build dreams for the future and demonstrate that you don't take each other for granted. Positive communication of this sort is just as necessary as discussing contentious issues.
8) Make your needs known
If you're not getting what you need from your relationship, you need to discuss this with your partner. It can be an intimidating prospect, but it is better than assuming that your partner has a duty to pick up subtext, double meanings and nonverbal signals. You are more likely to see the relationship improve in the ways you want if you decide to communicate in a direct and clear way.
9) Consider seeing a therapist
Finally, don't be afraid to seek the help of a therapist who specializes in relationships. Counseling isn't just for couples who are considering divorce; it is a safe and productive way to explore any issues influencing the quality of your relationship. A desire to improve communication is one of the most common reasons why couples approach a therapist.