Let's Talk This Out: 8 Communication Tips For You and Your Partner

Communication is HUGE when it comes to building an enduring relationship - time to make it work in your relationship's favor!

          Communication.  The most common word I hear when working with couples.  "How come he won't communicate?"  "How come she won't listen to me?"  "We just can't figure out this communication thing."  Every relationship has to do it, and yet it is incredibly challenging to find the unique communication style for your relationship.

          Your communication patterns are not set in stone, even if it feels that way at times.  They can be changed; it is just up to you and your partner to put in the work.  Here's 8 ways to get that change started!

#1:  It Starts With Your Body Language

couple body language

           Body language is something our brains are wired to look at and decipher, often without us realizing it.  We give more credibility to the messages of body language than the words being used.  The message your body language sends is the first one your partner receives.  You can derail a conversation before it even happens from your body language alone, and it's the same for your partner too.  It is essential to make body language work for your relationship instead of against it.  So, how do you do this?

          You need to take the time to observe your body language.  It might seem strange, but it can have dramatic impacts on communication.  It's important to find out if your body language tends to look more closed off, which sends out the message of not being interested or defensive.  Or, are you relaxed and inviting your partner to express their thoughts with you?

          Obviously, it can be hard to gauge your own body language.  This is where your partner can help, and you can help them too.  Work with each other to discuss what each other’s body language looks like so you can make body language work in your relationship's favor.

#2:  Interpretating Your Partner's Body Language

          As you walk up to your partner to begin a conversation, you are scanning their body language to assess where they are.  This process is done quickly, and frequently without you even being aware it is happening.  Have you ever walked into a room to talk to someone and you immediately knew it was going to be a bad idea, but you weren’t quite sure why?  Chances are you made a call based on their body language.

          The same thing occurs when you are with your partner.  This isn't a bad thing, and in fact you can use it to your advantage.  Interpreting the body language of your partner can help you determine if it is a good time to have a conversation or not.  Believe it or not, a lot of times conversations go off the rails because the timing was not good.  Reading your partner's body language can help you determine if you're in a good moment or not.

     

#3:  Your Tone

          This one moves away from your body language and focuses on your words.  Or, at least, how the words you say are sound.  Think of the phrase, “you were right.”  Out loud or in your head, say that phrase with a bit of sarcasm behind it.  Now, say it again while making it sound genuine.  How different does that phrase sound and feel when you say it sarcastically and genuinely?  It’s the same three words with a different message depending on how you say it.  Welcome to the power of your tone.

          In my experience with couples, it is not uncommon for one partner to say something where the words were right but the tone was wrong.  This leads to their partner reacting defensively while leaving the speaker shocked.  When it comes to communicating, how you say it is more important than what you say.

          Keep note of the way you generally speak with your partner.  What type of emotion gets mixed in with the words?  Does your tone tell your partner you are willing to work together or that you are on the defensive?  Your words might say work with me, but your tone could be saying stay away.  It is up to you to identify how your tone impacts communication.

#4:  The Speaking Speed Limit

tiles that say take your time

          Have you ever met someone that talked so fast you were lost within a matter of moments?  The speed you use when talking influences the quality of your communication.  If you leave your partner trying to catch up to what you said, or you are the one attempting to keep up, chances are that conversation didn't get you anywhere.  

          On the flip side, if someone talks too slow, boredom creeps in and we are more likely to start looking around the room or at our phones.  Remember body language?  This can come off as a sign that we no longer care about what is being said.  The speed you speak with matters.

          Keeping your rate of speech at a pace that your partner can keep up with you leads to effective communication and understanding.  If you are concerned that they may not be keeping up, simply ask if you need to slow down.  When you feel left behind, hold a hand up and say something along the lines of, “I am trying to understand you, but am having a hard time keeping up, would you be able to slow down a bit; I can tell this is important to you and I don't want to miss it.”

          When you and your partner are having an important discussion, it is not a race.  You both need to take your time to make sure thoughts are expressed clearly and messages are received and interpreted correctly.  Working on your speed of speaking can help ensure that you get to the solution together.

#5:  Speaking With, Rather than At, Your Partner

          When you are in a heated conversation with your partner, and if you allow yourself to be overcome with intense emotions, then you will begin talking at your partner.  What does that mean?  Quite simply, this is when you begin to tell your partner how things are going to be, what they are going to feel, how they are going to behave, and how things are going to go without any input from them.

          If you begin to talk at your partner, rather than to, you are no longer working as a team and you're not headed towards solutions.  You are going to create more distance in the relationship, put your partner on the defensive, and end the chances of that particular conversation having any value.  The same is true if your partner speaks this way towards you.

          Blame is the easiest indicator that you have started talking at your partner rather than to them.  “You always do this,” “you know this is your fault,” “if you could just pull it together,” or “you are the reason I’m doing this” are common phrases you might say when talking at your partner.

          Learning how to talk with your partner, even when feeling disrespected or emotional, allows the conversation and relationship to move forward.  Talking with your partner keeps respect in place, allows you to continue working as a team, and moves you towards solutions.  It is not just your partner’s responsibility, or just yours:  it is both of your responsibilities to talk with one another rather than at each other.

#6:  Using Accountability Language

          Ever noticed when you are in a heated discussion with your partner, it is easy to bring up all their transgressions while leaving yourself blameless?  What needs to be asked is whether or not this strategy is helping bring your relationship closer or pushing you apart?

          Accountability is hard to do in a relationship.  It requires you to focus on the ways you have contributed, usually not constructively, to a situation and take responsibility for that.  In a relationship, you both influence one another and have contributed to the situation.  Instead of focusing only on your partner’s part, look at what you could have done differently and what you will do moving forward.

          It can be difficult to look at your actions.  You may be scared your partner will jump on it and drive it in deep.  The fact is the only person’s behavior you can change is your own.  Identify what you are responsible for and take accountability for it with your partner.  This does not mean you need to shame yourself; rather, accountability should free you from shame.  Plus, the more accountability you take, the more your partner will do the same - that changes the dynamic!

#7:  Team Building Language

couple on bench working together

          Team building language and accountability language are a powerful combination.  When you begin to search for solutions to your challenges together, you are using team building language.  As you work to strengthen your connection and build each other up, you are using team building language.  The times you show compassion, forgiveness, and empathy to your partner, you are using team building language.

          This type of communicating prioritizes your relationship over individual egos.  You focus on what will bring you closer and move you forward together rather than trying to win as an individual.  If you try to score a win for yourself, you lose.  Using language that focuses on working together increases the chances of your partner working with you too.  It does not matter who starts the team building language, it just needs to happen!

          Think of how you normally talk while in a heated conversation with your partner.  Are you saying words that encourage you and your partner to work together or do they create division?  As a couple, do you solve problems more often than you do not?  Team building language could be one of the missing ingredients if it seems like your relationship gets stuck in the same negative cycle.  Find ways to use your verbal and nonverbal communication as a way to bring your team together through team building language!

#8:  The Power of Listening

          Listening is essential to communication, and it's easy to forget to do when we want to make a point.  In couple’s therapy, this is the skill that I would work on most with each partner in the relationship.  It is a difficult skill to learn.  Most of us do not realize that we tend to listen to a short amount of information while starting to formulate our response, while our partner is still talking! 

          The goal of listening to your partner should not be to get only the pieces of information you need to form an argument that fits your narrative.  Listening needs to focus on understanding your partner and their view of the situation.  If you are too focused on getting your quick responses in, it derails finding solutions and warp drives you into disconnect.

          It is true, listening is a process that takes a lot of time and can hurt at times when what you are listening to might be about you.  However, it can help heal wounds and foster connection as it takes your relationship’s communication to a whole new level.  

          Work on giving your partner the room to speak their views rather than trying to interrupt.  Remember, their side of the story is as important to them as your side of the story is to you.  Giving each other room to speak in a way that allows both of you to feel heard will transform your relationship.

          Listening requires you to set your ego aside and open your heart and mind to your partner.  Become curious rather than seeking conflict.  Ask for more information to clarify what they are saying.  If it is getting hard to listen without retaliating, it is time for a pause in the conversation.  Listen to one another to empower your communication!

couple holding hands

          Just because you have communicated in a certain way since early on in your relationship does not mean that is what you are stuck doing forever.  If you do not like the way tough conversations are handled, change it.  Do not try to change your partner; instead, change the way you communicate and work as a couple to implement new communication strategies.

          Communication allows you to win as a team, which means you move your relationship forward and deepen your connection.  It is a process and will take time, but it will be a better use of time than your communication might be giving you now.  Isn’t this what you want anyway?  The choice is up to you and your partner, so get together and talk it out!

Categories: Empowered Couples