Perhaps the most frustrating advice couples can hear when they're trying to improve communication in their romantic relationships is to "just talk."
Anyone who has had communication issues knows that it is never that simple.
In reality, 65% of divorce stems from poor communication. This suggests that not only is communication a common issue, but it's a common issue which many people simply don't know how to handle on their own.
Fortunately, there are a number of things that can be done to improve the communication in your own romantic relationships.
Talk In Person, Not With Technology
Face to face communication manages to cover many important elements of conversation that text or email simply can't encompass. Tone, body language, emotion -- all of these things can be easily read and conveyed in a face to face conversation, but are very difficult to pick up on through text conversations. Emoji's can only do so much of the work. Save the really serious talks for in-person conversations - texting at work about how your day is going, or shooting off a few fun Facebook messages is always fine. But using these mediums to re-ignite an argument, or bring up a fight from the night before isn't going to accomplish anything good. If you feel like you communicate more clearly in written form, write your thoughts down on paper and remove the immediacy of technology. This will allow you to process further and remove the temptation to send off a quick message in the heat of the moment. This also respects the importance of timing. An angry, or even well intentioned, email is not likely to accomplish much connecting during your partner's busy work day.
Listen as Much as You Talk
Start conversations with your partner instead of waiting for them to initiate conversation. Ask about their day, their current projects, or books they are reading. But -- and this is the important part -- remember to engage with what they're saying. As they talk about the elements of what they're dealing with, ask further questions. Go deeper into the conversation, and avoid just nodding and giving "uh huh" responses. You want to not only show your partner that you genuinely care about what they're saying, but you also want to genuinely learn to communicate better -- and listening is a great way to do that.
Use Reflection as a Tool
Reflection is the process of responding to something said to you by repeating what you heard in an effort to ensure that you truly understand your partner's message. "When you say X, I hear Y." Or, "You are telling me A, and I can help by doing B." By doing this, you show your partner that you are actively listening to them and paying attention to what they are saying to you -- two things that matter very much in a relationship, especially when you feel you your voice may not be being heard.
Remember the Many Forms of Communication
We don't only use speech as a form of communication -- nonverbal language such as huffs and sighs, as well as body language, all contribute to a conversation. Remember that even something as simple as not facing your partner, crossing your arms over your chest, or not making eye contact all can contribute to how poorly a conversation goes. If you find that you have a hard time maintaining open body language, try sitting down when you have conversations with your partner -- you may find that a table between you and your partner, or just being seated and facing them greatly changes your posture.
When arguments turn nasty, it's often because one partner has brought up a recurring problem in the relationship, or something that happened in the past. If your conversations turn into arguments (even small ones) try to keep them entirely focused on what's currently going on. That means no statements that start off with, "This is just like how you always..." or anything similar. Keep the conversation on track, and you'll be able to have much more civil conversations. If you feel like you need to address a pattern that has occurred over time, focus on your pattern of emotion. For example, "When we visit your family, I have noticed that I often feel isolated. Can we talk about how we may be able to change this?"
Remember The Goal Is Connection
The saying goes, would you rather be right or would you rather be happy. The purpose of communication is not to prove how you are right and your partner is wrong. By remembering that the goal is to address issues to enhance connection, you are likely to be less impulsive and hurtful with your words. And, in truth, rarely is anyone actually right in arguments with a spouse. Reality is that both individuals have different perspectives and experiences and both have some validity. Connecting with your partner means understanding that, even when you don't agree with him or her, their experience is just as valid as your own.
Looking for more support on improving communication? You can always contact us for ideas on ways to better your communication skills - no matter who you're trying to talk with.