Do you ever wonder why you can’t seem to get your message across to your partner no matter how hard you try? Do you struggle to practice loving communication? Anyone can talk at someone else, but it takes a certain level of skill to present your ideas in a loving way that makes your partner feel like they are loved, supported, and appreciated; not under attack. Learning loving communication can be difficult to master, but not impossible.
To utilize loving communication, be ready to set aside your ego and amp up your vulnerability, allowing the highest level of efficiency in your conversations. If you want to learn loving communication, then you must be willing to kick your bad habits. Loving communication is about reciprocity. Both partners must set aside their pride or that feeling of “I’m right” in order to promote what’s best for the couple.
Before you kick your bad habits, it’s imperative that you know what they are. Below is a list to get you started with thinking about what your bad communication habits might be. Everyone is different. You may not have all of these habits, but if you fix just one, you will see a difference.
The Four Horsemen: Dr. John Gottman identified four types of negative communication styles that couples fall victim to, which are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. According to Gottman’s research, these communication styles are extremely harmful to relationships.
You overwhelm your partner with too much information: It can be hard to bring up your grievances right when they occur, so you just hold them in until the “time is right.” The problem with this is that you’ll end up flooding them with too much information, leading them to feel under attack or overwhelmed. Plus, this can add more stress to you by holding on to your thoughts and emotions for extended periods of time, thus making you resent your loved one, which is a form of passive-aggressive communication.
You wait for the “right time”: Unfortunately, there is no “right time” for discussing difficult issues that may bring up emotions by both partners. You can not control other people’s emotions. Pain is a natural, and sometimes beneficial, part of life. Putting yourself in a vulnerable position has the potential to be difficult, but it will make your relationship stronger in the long run.
You bring up the past: bringing up unrelated relationship problems you’ve had in the past in order to make a current point, keeps you in the past and negates forward movement making it harder for you to solve the current issue at hand.
You point out things that your partner isn’t capable of changing: By pointing out things your partner can not change, you are telling them that you are unhappy with who they truly are. Unless these things are deal breakers, you should stay away from bringing unnecessary negative attention to something your partner can not control.
Not recognizing when you are gridlocked: You’re going to have issues that are unsolvable. Continuing to fight over these issues will exhaust you and lead you nowhere. Identify what topics should be off limits and stay away from them.
Lacking empathy: Everyone has their own burden that they are carrying with them. Recognizing that your partner is also a human with real emotions just like you will make you a more understanding partner.
You lose sight of your partner’s strengths and your weaknesses: In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to focus solely on your partner’s flaws in contrast to all of their strengths. Unfortunately, by doing this you are creating a you vs. them mentality, which will hold your relationship back. Remember, you and your partner are a team.
You bring family/friends into the discussions: Privacy within a relationship is important. Your friends and family are not unbiased; therefore, they can not give you advice from a true outsider perspective. Also, you need your loved ones on BOTH of your sides if you want your relationship to thrive.
You have difficult discussions over text/email: When you text/email, you are unable to hear your partner’s tone and you have a high risk of potentially blowing things out of proportion, being misrepresented, or losing information due to not having all forms of communication (i.e. nonverbal cues). If a vast majority of your conversations with your loved one are in person, then your difficult conversations should be too.
You have difficult discussions after you’ve been drinking or on drugs: Having an altered state of mind while having difficult discussions will only make it harder to control your emotions and to focus on improvement instead of blame. Further, you may not remember vital parts of the conversations that are imperative to forward movement.
So now what? Thankfully, there are many simple ways to adjust how you approach conflict with your loved ones that will leave everyone feeling respected and understood. Here are same ways to improve your communication.
Active listening: Listening is not the same as hearing. Active listening requires you to sit back and think about what your partner is saying before you think about your response.
- Make sure not to cut the other person off because if you do, you aren’t giving them a chance to communicate back to you.
- Reiterate what your partner said using “what I heard you say is…” and do not interpret their words. Instead, mirror verbatim what your partner said. To hear your words back to you can be powerful, your partner may realize what they said came out wrong. Mirroring allows for them to make corrections if necessary. Mirroring also allows for you to have more time to process what your partner has said.
- You can then ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand. Reiterating will also make your partner feel like you are truly listening to their concerns and you respect their opinions, which they will likely do in return.
Be aware of your body language: Body language speaks volumes.
- Posture: Pay attention to your posture, is it open toward your partner or closed off? Facing toward your partner with an open posture will let them know that you are ready to hear what they have to say.
- Facial Expressions: Your facial expressions are important, too. Even though you aren’t actively speaking, an eye roll or an angry glare could put your partner into attack/defense mode. Lack of eye-contact may indicate discomfort or shame.
- Tone of voice: How you say something is just as important as what you are saying, sometimes more so. No one wants to be talked down to. You have to be cautious of how you are speaking and whether your tone is coming off as too aggressive.When you’re caught up in the moment, having awareness for your tone can be difficult. The more you reflect afterwards, the easier it will get for you to put into practice in the moment, but it does take time to learn. Keep this in mind when you are practicing loving communication.
Ask for the floor: Confrontation is hard. It takes a lot of courage to speak your mind freely about problems that upset you. Emotions can take over the strongest of us and can make it hard to keep your thoughts in order. Ask your partner for uninterrupted time to explain yourself. Helping you to stay calm without worrying whether you’ll have space to get things off your chest completely. By taking the floor, your partner will have a chance to practice active listening. Remember, you also have to be willing to give your partner the floor if they ask. Respect and mutuality often breeds more respect.
“I” statements: These are great because it focuses on your characteristics and emotions instead of pointing out what you think of your partner. For example “I feel embarrassed when you make fun of me in front of the kids” versus “You are such a jerk for making fun of me in front of the kids”.
Knowing when to step away and come back later: Sometimes taking a breather is the right decision. Give yourself and your partner time to clear your heads so that you don’t end up saying something you’ll later regret. Always come back. Taking a break and leaving the conversation open is just as bad as not taking a break. There has to be follow through with the conversation where both parties feel a resolve.
Recognizing a gridlock: In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to allow our emotions to take over and continue a conversation that is going nowhere. Ask yourself when you are calmer, what are topics you do not enjoy discussing with your partner? Are these topics that could be enjoyable with someone else, but your partner just doesn’t have the same views as you, and, therefore, shouldn’t be a topic of interest between the two of you? For some couples, discussing topics like politics or social justice can be too difficult and do not bode well. Recognizing which conversations to have with one another versus a friend who aligns with your views on such topics is paramount to staying in a good place with your partner.
Set a time that works for both of you: Some couples do really well by setting specific time and days where they check-in with one another. Sometimes these check-ins concentrate on the positives of the week within the relationship. Other times, these check-ins allow room for some of the negative interactions that have come up for each individual. By setting a specific time, each person can mentally prepare themselves to be an active listener and to use their “I” statements. If you can’t commit to regular check-ins, but have things you want to share with your partner, set up a time with them. It’s okay to ask to talk. Make it a time where both of you have each other’s undivided attention and can be in one another’s presence.
Using these tips will help you practice loving communication. Breaking nonproductive habits is difficult, and these skills won’t come overnight. If you find you’re still struggling to communicate in a way that is productive and feels good, call The Better You Institute (267-495-4951) to set up an appointment with a trained therapist.