Communication: the Keystone to a Strong Relationship
So you have identified and started to work through both your individual and collective deal breakers within the relationship. That’s great, but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be moments of madness in the near or distant future. Bad things can hit the fan at any point, often when you least expect it. It is for this reason that couples counselling places such a strong emphasis on effective and healthy communication.
It’s all very well to have people tell you just how important communication is in a relationship. But if we are never taught how to communicate better, then how are we expected to develop our communication skills and subsequently have longer-lasting relationships?
There are several tools that couples in successful marriages and our Kitchener therapists have identified over time that foster better communication. We have taken some of these tools and put them into 5 simple techniques to help you:
- Employ active listening
Active listening, if practiced and mastered, is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your partner. In practical terms, listening is not talking at the same time as your partner, but allowing them to have their turn to express themselves without any interruption.
But more than that, actively listening is both hearing what they have to say – the actual words that they use – as well as observing both your own and your partner’s body language. To show you are actively listening, maintain strong eye contact and once your partner has finished talking, consider responding to them first with “I hear you” or “Thank you for sharing that with me” before introducing your own points. In doing so, you demonstrate that you were not simply waiting for your turn to speak, but rather that you were engaged and interested in what your partner had to say.
- Ask open-ended questions
Closely connected to active listening, is asking open-ended questions. Communication does not simply involve finding out about the micro details of your partner’s day. It can be a little bit of that, but mostly it is about digging deeper and creating the opportunity to learn more about your partner. By asking open-ended questions, such as “Tell me about your day?” instead of yes or no questions like “Did you have a good day?”, you’re giving your partner space to share more if they would like to.
In addition, asking open-ended questions following a rant from your partner is a far better listening tool than explaining what you think about your partner’s issues or concerns. A good listener knows the value in asking good questions, and recognises that they have the potential to help your partner see problems from a different perspective.
- Mind what you say, words are powerful
When it comes to the most heated point of an argument, it is very easy to say something that can never be taken back. So one of the greatest skills you can develop is to pause and think before you speak. Both what you say and how you say it can terminate effective communication. Avoid name calling, swearing or rehashing old, previously resolved or forgiven issues. Similarly, it is unhelpful to start sentences with “You always…” or “You”, rather speak from your own lived experience and describe how you feel. The former can often be taken as an attack and cause your partner to become defensive.
If you have a pet name, try using that name lovingly in a confrontation before starting your point – it dilutes anger and changes the tone of the conversation. A general rule of thumb in any confrontation is: it is better to be nice than to be right.
- Tell your partner what you need
It doesn’t serve anyone to hold things in. We can acknowledge that humanity has come a long way, but we are still pretty far off from the average person being able to read someone else’s mind from across the room.
If your partner has asked what is on your mind, don’t shrug them off with a careless and entirely untrue “Nothing”. We all know that’s rubbish. Instead of getting mad at your partner for not deciphering what your “nothing” actually is, take a moment to appreciate that your partner is making an effort to understand where you are in your thought process. Then, let them into the process with you by talking it through. If it is a difficult conversation, then say it is. Start with, “This is very hard for me to say, but you have asked and I want to be open with you.” From there, generally speaking your partner should know that it is a sensitive topic and that it should be handled with care.
It is far more effective to be direct than to hide behind passive aggression.
- You are not a mind reader
Do not assume that you know what your partner is thinking and feeling. Sometimes you think you can just tell from one look how someone is feeling, but even then, you can never know for sure. So, it’s simple: ask. In the same way that you need to communicate your needs to them, because your needs may not be so blatantly obvious, so do they need to have the freedom to open up to you.
Try letting your partner know that you are trying to support and connect with them, but that it is difficult to do so when you can’t decipher how they feel. In a relationship it comes down to feeling safe to be vulnerable. If you guarantee that safety, your partner will feel more and more comfortable opening up and sharing their “stuff” with you.
If you and your partner are looking for couples therapists in Kitchener, Waterloo to help with your relationship or would like to improve on your communication skills within the relationship, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! Contact COCA Psychotherapy couples counselling services in Kitchener, Waterloo here to book an appointment or give us a call at 226-336-5787 for a free consultation over the phone.