Communication can make or break a relationship. Understanding how you and your partner communicate is a necessity if you want your relationship to thrive, rather than just survive. However, there are so many ways we communicate messages to others. Body language and meta-messages (underlying meaning behind the direct message) are some ways that communication gets foggy between partners. Here are some tips to increase positive communication and avoid inferring inaccurate messages from your partner:
1. Try using an “I feel” statement when you are talking with your partner. This is a way to share your feeling without accusing your partner of anything. Just because something makes you feel a certain way, does not mean that was your partner’s intention. This gives them a chance to explain the meaning behind their actions or words. Try using this sentence structure: I feel (emotion) when you (action).
Example: I felt upset when you walked away while I was talking.
2. Take a break during arguments to avoid escalating the situation and saying something you regret. When we experience anger or frustration at higher levels, it is difficult to process what we are going to say. This can lead to hurtful comments, and often we are unable to get our point across. When you notice that your level of frustration is rising, suggest taking a break from the conversation. Remember, the length of the break is important. If you take too little time, the feelings could still be escalated. If your break is too long, the issue could be forgotten, and you avoid a true resolution. 20-30 minute break is an appropriate amount of time to cool down and return to the issue for resolution.
3. Come up with a special saying or physical gesture that the two of you share. Even if it’s as simple as ‘we are on the same team’ or reaching for your partner’s hand. This may seem silly, but it can provide some much needed brevity during a heated conversation. Make an agreement that if this is initiated by one partner, the other must accept the gesture. When you share a special saying or gesture with your partner it can help remind you about the positive aspects of your relationship; it reminds you why you are with this person in the first place.
4. If you are confused by a comment or behavior that your partner said or did, simply ask them what was their intent. We can upset ourselves by assuming inaccurate meta-messages coming from our partner. Try asking, ‘what do you mean by that?’
5. Take some time to develop rules for your arguments. It might seem counterproductive to prepare for fights, but it is inevitable that you will disagree with your partner at some point in your relationship. Remember, arguing does not mean that your relationship is dysfunctional. There are ways to fight fair! It’s helpful to talk about how to approach arguments at a safe time, when you are not actually having an argument. Schedule a time to sit down together and discuss how to approach the tips above! That way you are on the same page when one of you uses the special saying or initiates a break in the argument.
These tips can help improve communication between you and your partner, but there is no shame in asking for outside help. If you feel that you are still having trouble communicating with your partner, it might be time to reach out to a couple’s therapist.