The age-old saying, “Communication is key.” has stuck around for a reason. While it may sound like one of those broken record clichés, it actually has a lot of value. Regardless if you and your partner have been together for 6 months or 6 years, every successful, healthy relationship has one thing in common: communication.
Unfortunately, this is also an area many of us struggle with. A lack of communication can be a hard habit to break. First, let’s look into some signs your relationship may be suffering a communication breakdown.
Signs That Communication Is Lacking
Here are some common signs that your communication as a couple needs work:
- Constant criticism of each other
- Feeling defensive
- Stonewalling (a.k.a. the “cold shoulder”)
- Recurring arguments
- Lack of compromise
Lots of factors play into effective communication and it’s certainly something that requires a little elbow grease in the beginning. Although it may be a bit uncomfortable at first, the more you practice healthy communication, the more it becomes a part of your everyday life together.
Tips for Building Better Communication
Ask the Right Questions
Asking questions is important. But it’s also important to ask the right questions in the right way. For many of us, simply stating things is quicker and easier. However, this closes the door to productive conversation.
Instead, ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that can have one word or yes/no responses won’t help much. Instead, ask questions that your partner can think about and respond to.
For example, asking “Why didn’t you do the dishes like I asked?” can come across as an accusation, making someone put their hackles up and feel defensive. But if we ask, “What prevented the dishwasher from being unloaded?” it takes the pressure of the person and you might find out that something unexpected or stressful came up.
Approach these scenarios with curiosity—you may not have all the information you need before making an assessment!
At first glance, you may think, how can listening be active? Well, there’s a big difference between passive and active listening.
We can listen to someone passively, but we may be distracted or not fully absorbing what’s being said. Scrolling through your phone while watching TV is an example of passive listening.
Active listening, on the other hand, requires your undivided attention. Someone who is listening actively will make eye contact, nod along, or make verbal sounds of thought or agreement.
So put your phone face down and on silent, turn off the tv, etc. And when it’s your turn to speak, refer to the strategy above about asking insightful, open-ended questions.
Watch Your Language
When you communicate with your partner, what pronouns are you using most: I, you, or we?
Sometimes, if we say “you” a lot, it’s important to consider why. Using “you” too frequently can come across like you’re pointing fingers and assigning blame. For example, “You make me feel…” comments put the blame for our own feelings and reactions on the other person instead of us taking ownership of it.
If you’re using “I” a lot, consider why as well. Conversations that seem to be all about you aren’t going to be very productive and can actually make the other person feel inferior or unheard.
Successful communication is a balanced dance between two people. If one person tends to dominate the conversation, let them know without pointing fingers. They may not even be aware they have that habit. If one person comes across accusatory, pause and ask them open-ended questions with the goal of uncovering the real source of their frustration.
If you’re struggling to make healthy communication a habit in your relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out for marriage counseling. Together we can outline the tools you’ll need, practice them in a safe space, and get you set up for success.