5 Tips to Improve Communication with your Partner

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.

Singing your way to Peace

As a child, my dad would take me running around the lake near our home.  We would wake up at the crack of dawn to complete our run before his workday began.  During our run, I would beg for a break; complaining that I have asthma and I can’t run as fast and as long as my dad.  After the first few runs, he told me that I would never get faster if I don’t push myself.  I appreciated the encouragement, but I didn’t know what steps to take to “push myself”.  Now, as a therapist, I often hear the same question from clients that are trying to overcome their anxiety: ‘what are the steps to push through my anxiety?’

Anxiety can be a common feeling that we experience in stressful situations (for example, going on a first date or giving a presentation at work).  However, if you begin to notice that you are experiencing excessive worry and constant racing thoughts for everyday situations, this could be an indication that your anxiety has become an impairment to your daily functioning.  Unfortunately, anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms as well.  Rapid heart rate, sweating, difficulty breathing, and even dissociation are some of the ways that anxiety presents itself.

Deep breathing interventions are some of the most helpful to teach a client that is struggling with anxiety, as it decreases the physical symptoms.  However, one of my favorite interventions was introduced when I was trying to improve my running skills! My dad would tell me to pick a song that I enjoy, not too slow, but too fast; a steady tempo.  As we would run, he would tell me to sing the song in my head, as this would help to regulate my breathing (Dad told me this is why soldiers in the military chant while they run together…not sure if this is true, but it makes a lot of sense!).  Can you see how this would be beneficial for someone struggling with anxiety?

Now, I share this as a tool to regulate breathing and decrease anxiety.  I encourage clients to think of a song they know well (try not to choose a song that triggers feelings of sadness or depression.  Uplifting or positive lyrics can make a positive impact!), something they can recall, even if they are overwhelmed.  When they begin to notice that anxiety is increasing, they sing the song in their head.  It helps to regulate breathing, and a happy song can also improve mood.  Music lovers really enjoy this technique!  It’s always nice to have extra tools in your mental health toolbox, so here are some other helpful breathing techniques:

-rule of four: breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold breath for four seconds, then release through the mouth for four seconds.  Repeat four times…simple and easy to remember techniques are best, as you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about what to do next.

-lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth and take a deep breath in through the nose.  Let out that breath through the mouth until all of your air has been expelled.

-consider closing your eyes for this technique.  As you take a deep breath in, visualize a color that represents peace and positivity.  As you breathe out, visualize a color that represents negativity.  Imagine you are taking in all the positive things around you, and breathing out all the negativity.

If breathing is regulated, you have a chance to recognize the anxious thoughts, and challenge them.  Remember, this is simply the first step to decrease anxiety.  It takes time, so don’t be hard on yourself as you work through your anxiety!