The Dos and Don’ts of Successful Couples’ Communication

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You’ve heard it said a thousand times before: Communication is key. It’s not exactly rocket science, so it begs the question, “Why are so many couples in a communication rut?” The reason is that although the principles are simple enough, we’re sorely lacking in practice, leading to either constant misunderstandings or to safe, yet stale conversations. Neither is healthy for your relationship.

A couple needs to do more than just know how to communicate effectively; they have to actively, consciously, and purposefully put these skills into daily practice. Here are a few things you need to do (or not do) for successful couple communication.

DO listen before you speak

Listening, though part and parcel of the communication process is sadly one of the things that so many couples find easiest to forget. How often have you heard one partner accusing the other of tuning out?

Humans can be self-focused creatures by nature, and it’s only with a conscious effort that we can really overcome the desire to be the only one heard in a conversation.

Take note that active listening doesn’t imply merely keeping silent while the other one speaks. Neither does it mean taking that time to focus on composing what you will say when your turn comes. Active listening shows that you respect your partner and value what he or she has to say.

Train yourself to process what is being said to you – verbally or otherwise – and you’ll be well on your way to improving relationship communication.

DO review your verbal and nonverbal cues

Let’s paint a hypothetical scenario. Partner A comes home after an interesting day, full of stories for Partner B. B listens, but somehow A ends up offended at B’s seeming disinterest. Or suppose A and B are having an argument. A has a valid point, but somehow the message is lost in the delivery, and B finally walks off in a huff. These cases are just a couple of examples of situations where the right verbal and nonverbal cues would have saved the day.

When speaking and listening, try to evaluate your tone, facial expressions, and miscellaneous gestures. Are they supporting the message you wish to convey, or are they confusing your partner? You wouldn’t want a case of the issue getting lost in the delivery.

Don’t shy away from arguments

Another mistake many couples make is avoiding conflict like the plague. As unique individuals in an intimate relationship, friction is not only expected, but even encouraged to a certain degree.

Healthy arguments actually serve to strengthen a couple’s bond, whereas glossing over conflicts for the sake of a semblance of peace only builds walls.

Learn to look at arguments as opportunities for improving communication. Things to avoid in an argument include criticism or name-calling (“You’re [like] this…”) and accusation (“You did/do this…”). Practice using “I” statements, as it lowers your defenses and helps your partner understand where you’re coming from. Keep in mind that your goal isn’t to win the dispute for yourself, but rather for the two of you to reach an amicable compromise.

Don’t overestimate your (or your partner’s) understanding

Here’s another rule that stems from common sense and yet seems so hard for people to do: Never assume anything. Always offer and ask for a clarification if there is any risk at all of a misunderstanding.

It’s not fair to leave your partner guessing what that shrug or eye roll meant. Words of affirmation also fall under this category. Although couples generally understand how they feel about each other, voicing it out not only reinforces the bond between them, but also quells unspoken doubts and misgivings that may arise from time to time.

Don’t underestimate it, either

By “it”, I meant your partner’s capability to understand what you’re thinking, feeling, or saying. Although none of us are mind-readers, people’s instincts do kick in from time to time. Even without your speaking out loud, your partner will be able to see if something is bothering you, so you might as well share it. Not only will this offer relief, but it will also keep your partner from thinking that he or she was at fault. And even if that were the case, you still need to give your partner a little credit.

We’re talking about complete honesty and openness here. Whether things are perfectly peachy or something is amiss, the best thing you can do in either case is to speak out.

Do learn to empathise

This is one of the hallmarks of a loving couple: They know how to place themselves in each other’s shoes.

Empathy resolves conflicts, breaks down barriers, and opens communication lines almost effortlessly. What better way of understanding your partner than seeing things (including yourself) from his or her point of view? This doesn’t mean to say that empathy is a cure-all for every thorny patch, but it sure is an important prerequisite to a healthy relationship.

Do spend time apart

This last piece of advice may seem counter-intuitive, but if you look at it closely, you’ll see why it works. In the case of friction, a short timeout allows tempers to cool down enough for empathy and logic to step in. You will have to go back to the original discussion, but the chances of reaching a compromise would then be considerably higher.

Spending time apart is also necessary for individual growth. Studies show that men and women who give themselves some time for their own hobbies and circle of friends find greater satisfaction in their most intimate relationships. Their communication becomes richer, more varied, and more dynamic than that of couples who take “together time” to an extreme.

So whether you’re married, engaged, or simply dating, if your goal is to take your relationship to the next level, then apply these communication tips daily and practice, practice, PRACTICE! The rewards are all worth your extra effort.

Do you struggle with communication in your relationship? At the Centre for Relationship Development, our counsellors in Sydney, Kiama, NSW South Coast and the Northern Beaches of Sydney can help you improve the communication in your relationship. 

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