10 Ways to Improve Communication Between You and Your Partner

I have been working in the San Diego and surrounding areas (La Jolla, Oceanside, etc.) as  a Therapist specializing in Couples Counseling and Marriage Counseling for over 30 years. Therefore, I have seen and helped many couples who originally came to me with issues stemming from poor communication skills.

Open, honest, and positive communication is the solid groundwork for which you can build a healthy and happy relationship upon. Ultimately, many arguments and disagreements between couples evolve from a lack of good communication skills in the couples’ repertoire. Couples often resort to arguing and bickering back and forth, where nothing ever gets resolved and neither partner is satisfied. If you find yourself battling this vicious cycle of unresolved arguing and disagreement, you will likely benefit from Couples Counseling or Marriage Counseling. In the meantime, or perhaps in between counseling sessions, here are several “simple” communication skills that you and your partner can practice to help reduce the number of arguments you are having:

  • Tell Your Partner What You Need:

    People aren’t mind-readers (as much as we would like
    them to be sometimes), and your partner is no different. Unless you are open
    and honest with your partner about your feelings and your needs, you cannot
    expect him/her to “just know”. This is often a communication skill that couples
    find difficult to acquire, because they get so used to their previous ways of
    communicating (which do not work), and find it hard to express themselves to
    their partner. It sounds odd, but expressing one’s needs is not an easy task and
    does require practice. So practice explaining how you feel and
    telling your partner what it is that you need from the relationship or from a
    particular incident. This requires being blunt sometimes (“blunt” does not mean
    “rude”, however), but it is the only way you can expect your partner to know
    your expectations and feelings. As I said, humans cannot read minds and should
    not be expected to. Therefore, avoid “mind games” and “hints” which you may
    think are obvious to your partner but are usually not apparent. Be open and
    honest with one another and you will be surprised at your ability to
    communicate effectively!

  • Avoid Saying “YOU”

    The word “you” implies blame. As soon as someone hears a sentence beginning with “You” (particularly during an argument), they are automatically on the defense and will altogether cease to listen to the rest of your spiel. This is not good communication. In fact, it is not communication at all, since your partner has stopped listening to you and is already planning his/her defense in
    retaliation! Instead of saying the word “you” (i.e. “You really irritated me when you ignored my call this afternoon”), generalize the term from “you” to “people”. For instance, the above example could be re-phrased to say: “It makes me feel really irritated when people don’t answer my phone calls”. Communicating
    this way still gets the message across, but does so in a non-attacking, non-blaming manner. Your partner cannot then argue with you and tell you that
    you don’t “feel” a certain way, because you already took ownership of your feelings and no one can debate that. However, you are letting your partner
    know, in a way that does not “point the finger”, that what he/she did made you
    feel a certain way. As I said, your feelings are not up for debate, but perhaps
    instead of arguing about whether or not the phone call was intentionally ignored, your partner will be more receptive to your thoughts and feelings and be able to calmly discuss the issue with you, without the playing the “blame game” and engaging in a circular argument.

  • Acknowledge the Positive Whenever Possible:

    I was once told that whenever you are thinking something nice about someone, you should tell them! It is only going to make their day that much better, and will likely lead to them repeating the behaviour you just acknowledged or praised.

  • Take Responsibility for Yourself

    Couples arguments involve both parties, yet neither party eagerly admits he/she is at fault. Keep in mind that it took the two of you to get into this argument, and
    it will take the two of you to resolve it. Do your part and acknowledge your wrongdoings. Instead of denying your role in the argument, accept that it does
    take two, and that you likely did play some kind of role that led to the situation’s escalation. Do not, by any means, take all of the blame or responsibility. Instead, own up to your> role in the argument and acknowledge it. This communicates to your partner that you realize that what you did/said was wrong, and that you are strong enough to admit to yourself and to your partner when you have made a mistake.

  • Avoid Baggage:

    This is an all-too-common problem. When couples argue, either one or both partners resort to bringing up the past. For example: “Well last time you said you’d call, you didn’t!” While past events are important, they should not be re-hashed in every current argument or disagreement you are having with your
    partner. The past does not always dictate the future, and engaging in circular arguments about the past with your partner will do you no good. Instead, focus on the present. Explain your feelings and emotions (in a non-attacking way, as explained in Tip #2), and discuss the present issue with your partner calmly instead of trying to build “evidence” about his/her past behaviours.

  • Go from “Me” to “We”:

    In a relationship or marriage, there should be no “winner” and no “loser”. If
    you are in a relationship, it is not all about you anymore. You have to consider your partner’s feelings and needs as well. Together, the two of you make up a team, and teammates work together to achieve a common goal. Imagine if your favorite baseball team all of a sudden turned on one another and began attacking each other over something like a bad pitch that allowed the other team to score a homerun. This would not only diminish the notion of “teamwork”, but would be counterproductive to the game. You and your partner should be working toward a common goal, like any other team out there. Blaming someone or deeming one partner a “winner” and the other a “loser” negates the concept of teamwork, and
    displays a self-centered outlook on the issue at hand. Being part of a team means compromising and meeting each other in the middle in order to resolve the issue collectively rather than single-handedly.

  • Avoid Being Distant

    Distancing yourself from your partner (whether it’s physically or emotionally) can be detrimental to your relationship. Remember, a healthy relationship is founded on good communication skills. If you are distancing yourself from your partner in any way, chances are you are not communicating effectively at all. Sometimes after an intense argument, a little bit of temporary distance can be a good thing. Just make sure that when things have calmed down that you two discuss the problem openly and honestly. Don’t wait for your partner to make the first move all the time. Initiate the conversation yourself by apologizing for what
    role you played in the argument, or by physically connecting with your partner
    (i.e. a hug or a kiss). Your partner is your partner after all, and that means
    being an open book, with no secrets or suspicions between the two of you. When
    you are open with one another, it builds trust in your relationship.

    You can do this by empathizing with your partner when he/she is going through a rough time, or just simply by listening intently to your partner speak about his/her feelings and emotions without judging or using critical language. When appropriate, you can even ask questions which will display to your partner that you are interested in what he/she is saying and not just “nodding along” and passively listening. When you and your partner are having a disagreement, you can show empathy and validation by keeping your cool, monitoring your tone of voice, and assuring your partner that his/her feelings are “normal” and that it is alright to express them. If you are not having a disagreement, you can still show respect toward your partner. For example, praise your partner and show appreciation every time he/she does something nice for you.

  • Stay True to Your Word:

    following through with whatever you say to your partner (within reason). For example, if you promise your partner you will be home by a certain hour, then make sure that you are. If you know you are going to be running late, give your partner the courtesy of a phone call to keep him/her in the loop so that they don’t feel betrayed or become suspicious. In addition, make sure you are being realistic with your words and promises to your partner. For instance, avoid using the words “always” and “never” in a dialogue with your partner. These are absolutes, and are therefore unrealistic. Instead of using absolute terminology, you can tell your partner that you will “try your best” or “make your best effort” to do whatever it is you are promising to do. And when you are unable to follow through with whatever it is you have agreed to do, let your partner know. This keeps him/her in the loop and “in the know”. You will be surprised how many arguments you can prevent by doing this!

  • Apologizing when Necessary and Saying “I Love Your”:

    As previously stated, it takes “two to tango”, therefore you should not have to take full responsibility all of the time. However, when you realize that you have said or done something wrong, own up to your behavior and apologize to your partner. Many couples have difficulty with apologies in fear that the admission of guilt will make them appear weak. In fact, the opposite is true! Apologizing and owning up to your wrongdoings is a sign of strength, not a sign of personal weakness. It shows that you are taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, and are able to admit when you’ve done something wrong. In addition to apologies, those three magical words (“I love you”) can have a great impact on your partner. Particularly after an argument and an apology, saying “I love you” reminds your partner that you are still there for him/her and that you still care. Never underestimate the power of those three little words!  Call me at 858-481-0425 for more information about scheduling an appointment

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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