Improving Communication in 8 Steps
Communication is a key point of any successful relationship. Relationships by definition consist of two separate people, and no individual in a relationship exists solely in a vacuum. Each person comes complete with their own viewpoints and emotions and personal history, and everyone brings their own set of expectations to the relationship. Communication skills also vary from person to person, and no two people are necessarily going to be equally matched in the communication department right from the get go. Like a lot of facets of relationships, communication has to be enhanced and developed over time as both parties learn and grow from each other. Fortunately, communication can be a learned skill, and it definitely comes with a learning curve. Regardless of where you start out, communication skills can be built and developed.
The first thing that needs to be made clear is that talking to your significant other doesn't necessarily equate to communicating with them. Talking exists primarily on surface-level topics, and doesn't delve too deeply into the important topics that face most couples regularly. The key to improving communication is to learn to truly communicate with them on those deeper levels, and make that communication more productive and meaningful.
Ultimately, a lot of relationships hinge on communication. Couples who communicate successfully are typically more likely to remain together. Couples who fail to communicate clearly and effectively tend to fall apart. Learning these tips to improve communication with your partner can definitely give you an edge in your relationship and its potential future.
How Often do you Communicate Effectively with Your Partner?
Step 1: Don't Just Talk - Listen
Listening is one of the most important keys to unlocking successful communication strategies. Admittedly, it's a lot easier to read an article on effective communication and watch videos about how to improve your communication skills than it is to put them into practice in the "heat of the moment". It seems that everything you've learned and actively pursued flies out the window when you're in the midst of a heated discussion or an argument with your significant other.
Instead of tuning out while your partner is talking so you can focus on the next point that you're going to raise, actually listen to what they're trying to say. Everyone wants to be understood and heard - especially from their significant others. In fact, in arguments, we're SO fixated on being heard that we don't really listen to what's being said on the other end. The nail in the coffin of that strategy is that refusing to listen to our partners often results in our voice not being heard either. The harder we fight to be understood, the less likely we are to be. That's why listening actively is so incredibly important in the battle for improved overall communication with our partners.
A funny example of miscommunication from Monty Python
Step 2: Make Yourself Really Hear What Your Partner is Saying
Even when you're not rushing to try to express your side or make your point, it doesn't mean that you're really hearing what your partner is trying to tell you. Admit it, you're still thinking about all of the things that you want to say in response. It's all-too-easy to tune someone else, but fortunately there is a tactic that works in order to "make" you hear. When actively listening to your partner, regurgitate what they've just said to you in your own words. This technique is called "reflection" and it's used by therapists across the country.
Bear in mind that doing this excessively may annoy your partner, so use it only in moderation. You also want to be careful to pay extra attention to your tone of voice. The last thing you want to do when trying to improve your communication is to give your partner the sense that you're making fun of them. If your partner questions you, tell them that you're actively trying to hear what it is that they're saying, and you're not doing it maliciously. Admit freely that sometimes you're concerned that you're not really understanding what they're trying to say to you, and you're trying to really think through what they've told you.
Step 3: Communicate with Honesty and Integrity
Most of us can get through life limiting the number of people that we open up to. For that matter, a lot of us aren't even open with ourselves a lot of the time. Being open means being vulnerable - and no one likes to be overly vulnerable. It's hard to truly focus and uncover what we really need and want from ourselves and from others. When it comes to relationships, however, openness is another big key to unlocking deeper and more meaningful communication. Being in a successful relationship requires a certain level of vulnerability in the form of openness.
If you make a habit of telling your partner little "harmless" white lies, it's practically inevitable that they will eventually turn into bigger lies. While holding your emotions at bay and keeping them safe from your partner may seem safer for yourself in the short-term, doing it long-term actually damages your relationship's stability. No one wants to feel that they're communicating with a brick wall or that getting through to their partner is practically impossible. Don't brush off things that bother you and pretend that everything's fine if it's not. Ignoring your partner because you're upset isn't the way to enhance communication and give your relationship the best possible chance for success. You may have gotten away with those things previously, but you can't get away with them now. These techniques actually build walls in relationships, and you should be focusing on tearing walls down, not putting up new ones.
Part of the meaning of being open with your partner means that you have to be willing to talk about things that you've never talked about before. You have to be willing to express yourself fully and demonstrate trust. Yes, that means that you're vulnerable - but the payoff of a successful relationship is worth it. You may get hurt. You may be disappointed. The tradeoff, however, of giving yourself the benefit of the full potential of a relationship is worth the calculated risk. This doesn't mean that you have to spill everything out on the first date. Give it time. But you do have to open up eventually - otherwise you'll be permanently stuck. The old adage is perfectly placed here - if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. If you've always been happy with your previous relationship attempts at communication, face it - you probably wouldn't be reading this right now. It's time to leave the past behind you, and focus on the present - and the future.
Step 4: Correctly Interpret Non-Verbal Signals
Another adage comes into play with this step. How you say something is often more important than what you say. Non-verbal communication encompasses the wide range of body language, the inflection and tone of your voice, making eye contact and where you're standing while you're communicating. These cues can be difficult to interpret correctly, which is why learning to decipher them is so important to effective communication. You need to actively listen while interpreting these signals correctly. Don't freak out - interpretation of non-verbal cues doesn't happen overnight, and there's certainly a lot of room for error. Like most other things, practice will give you confidence. Be patient with yourself while you're learning Become attuned to what their signals mean and when they do them. This chart may make non-verbal cues more manageable while you're learning.
The flip side to learning to interpret your partner's non-verbal signals is the carefully monitor your own. You don't want to be sending an unintentional message to them that you're not able to convey verbally. Keep steady eye contact with your partner, face them and carefully watch the tone and inflection of your voice. Sit next to them when possible, and try not to let the situation escalate out of control.
Cues and Interpretations
What it means
no eye contact
ashamed, embarassed or disinterested
becoming emotionally involved or escalating
turned away from you
emotionally closed, not interested
Step 5: Remain in the Present
Have you ever experienced a discussion or argument that starts out about one thing and then turns into anything else? Arguments have a tendency to devolve out of control very quickly. Often we can't even remember what the initial argument was about. Instead of bringing up things in the past, do both you and your partner a favor and remain in the here and now. It's a sign of respect for your partner and for your relationship overall. Stick on topic, regardless of how tempting it is to delve off-course. When you get wrapped up in an argument, it can be tempting to take cheap shots in order to make yourself feel better about the situation. If the argument starts about one topic, make sure that it ends on that topic - not about a slight that you experienced in the past.
Escalating arguments can easily jump from one subject to another in the heat of the moment. It's essential that one person try to keep the argument from escalating - or to calm the situation down if it's getting too heated or out-of-control. Sometimes you need to be the "bigger" person and step up to the plate. You may have to walk away from the conversation for a short amount of time to keep things from heating up even further. Don't let this turn into an additional slight, however. If you need to walk away, make sure that you do it with respect. Tell your partner that you don't want the situation to heat up even more than it already has, and that you would like to take a break from the argument so that you can continue communicating with a new perspective later. Then follow-through, and continue the conversation later on. Don't use walking away as an excuse to escape without ever resolving the issue at hand.
Step 6: Keep Emotions Out of Big Decisions as Much as Possible
Big, important decisions cannot be discussed openly and rationally if emotions are heightened on both sides. Anger impedes the decision-making process, and it's hard to be vulnerable when your partner looks like they're about to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. You'll want to save the big decisions like money, marriage or kids for when you're both in a more stable state of mind, not when things are already super-charged. In order to seriously consider the important topics, you need to be able to see them clearly and rationally. These topics are in-depth and important, and they need to be approached that way.
This doesn't mean that you have to lock your emotions away entirely and become closed-off and unavailable. This means respecting the big decisions and your partner enough to focus on seeing them and discussing them clearly. You owe it to yourself - and you owe it to your significant other and your relationship.
Step 7: Don't Be Afraid to Admit Defeat
Admitting that we're wrong is contrary to basic human nature. Our relationships are more important overall than "winning" an argument with our partners at all costs. We all want to be "right" all of the time - even if it means asserting that our partners are "wrong" by default. The truth of the matter is that it's not necessarily about winning or losing - or being right or wrong. You don't need to win badly enough that you're putting your relationship on the line, and it's not the end of the world if you cede the victory and give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Realistically, it's more likely that both you AND your partner need to back off and give each other some room.
Ceding an argument does not make you less of a person. In fact, it may be a mark of added maturity. Happy relationships rely on communication and respect - not a sense of entitlement about being "right" or a "winner". Is it more important for you to be right or for your partner to be happier and more fulfilled in your relationship? Ultimately, that's a decision that only you are able to make. But make sure that your priorities are in-line with your overall goals. If one of your goals is truly to improve communication, then you may need to re-examine your need to be right all of the time just to prove a point.
Step 8: Add Humor to Your Communication
Humor has a definite time and a place, but using it wisely within the confines of successful communication can be a wonderful addition that adds layer, meaning and bonding with your partner. Every person has a unique and useful sense of humor. Use your sense of humor to your advantage when it comes to improving communication with your significant other.
Humor can lighten tense situations and encourage a deepening relationship between you and your partner. It can ease the tension of frustration and allow you both to grow closer together. It has a tendency to put things into perspective so that things that seemed SO important a moment ago don't seem so important after laughing about them. Being willing to be playful with your partner lowers defenses and allows you both to take a break from the serious issues that may be at-hand.
The ability to communicate is easier in this day and age than ever before. Technological advances have made communicating available at the literal push of a button. Use these advantages wisely. You and your partner don't have to be face to face to truly communicate. You can communicate via social media, texting or email. It's true that actions really do speak louder than words, so show your partner through your actions that you're committed to the relationship and to developing deeper, more meaningful communication with them for the sake of your own personal growth and for the relationship. Check in with your significant other throughout the day, when possible. Send them a text to let them know that you're thinking about them.
Many couples find that discussing emotional issues is easier when they're not face-to-face. Many couples choose to have these conversations through email so that they can pay attention to what their partner is saying and respond after thought - not an initial knee-jerk reaction. Find what works best for you in your relationship and develop those skills appropriately.
Most importantly, have patience with yourself and your partner. No one is an expert on communicating 100% of the time. Mistakes will be made on both ends. That doesn't mean that you throw your hands in the air and stop trying. Learn from your mistakes. Communicate your feelings with your partner, and be willing to wipe the slate clean and try to make improvements for the next time. While communication can't be perfect all the time on day one, all it takes is a dedication to start and to stick with it. If you genuinely make the effort, your partner will appreciate your intentions - and will most likely join you on your endeavor.
© 2014 Julie McFarland