5 Steps For Better Communication


A surefire way to communicate better with your partner and reduce misunderstandings

It is very rare that anyone wakes up and says "I think I'll have a fight with my partner today." These things just happen, right? Well, not exactly. Over time, all of the past conversations that we have had with our partners help us to predict how today's particular conversations will go. If the relationship is rocky lately and communication has been breaking down, we tend to assume that this time will be no different. The problem is that that assumption becomes self-fulfilling and it's easy to see why. Communication is about opening up; it's about sharing a part of you. When we expose our thoughts and feelings, we can feel exposed or vulnerable. If I think that I'll just be dismissed or shot down when I open up, I'm certainly not going to bother. Better safe than sorry, right?

Here are a few steps to help you and your partner move away from the arguing and towards a better understanding of each other. 

1. Choose To Have A Good Conversation

How you speak to each other today can be different than it has been for the last few weeks/months/years, but you have to make a choice that you do not want to repeat old patterns. No one ever wants to admit this, but it starts by acknowledging that no matter how justified you feel in saying what you usually say, you might play a role in how bad those conversations go. Ask yourself if your partner is so completely unreasonable that he or she is 100% responsible for all of your misunderstandings at all times and you are completely blameless. If the answer is no, and it almost certainly is, then you can start to see what is within your control to change.

If there is something that the two of you need to discuss, it is important to see that every conversation is a two-person dance. We all have our own vulnerabilities and sensitivities and by acknowledging your role in where it goes wrong, you have the opportunity for it to go right.

2. Identify Your Own Emotions

One of the biggest problems with communication is that we are really (and I mean REALLY) good at telling other people what is wrong with them and what they have to change. "You always choose your friends over me!" or "You never take my side when your mother criticizes me!" are common examples of how we identify and try to change problems, but they rarely work. I'm sure that no one in the history of the planet has ever responded to either of those statements with the following words: "Really? Me? I do? I had no idea. Thank you very much for pointing that out." Instead, the defensive wall goes up and communication shuts down.

Before mentioning what your partner "always" or "never" does, you might want to first ask yourself why it matters. How does it make you feel when they act that way? Is it anger? Perhaps, but what else? Underneath the fury lies something else; something softer. Disappointment? Frustration? You're getting warmer. What about feeling misunderstood or disconnected from your partner? Have you felt unheard or unloved? These softer emotions are hard to identify and even harder to express, because they make us feel vulnerable, but until you know how you feel, it will be hard for you and your partner to have the conversation that you’re meant to have.

3. Speak Subjectively

In order to help us survive in this world, our brains are fantastic at coming up with explanations of why things happen the way that they do and sometimes that means that we make assumptions of what other people are thinking or feeling. The problem is that even though our brains are great at coming up with explanations, they are horrible at coming up with accurate explanations. You know that feeling that you get when someone else tells you what you really thought or what you really meant when you did something? Well, your partner probably feels the same way when you do it.

When having a difficult conversation, keep the focus on your own subjective thoughts and feelings, especially when speaking about a past event. When speaking about the past, there is usually your opinion of what happened, there is your partner's opinion of what happened and then there is what really happened, but when you share your own experience without it being the only version of the truth, it helps your partner to stay connected to what you are saying.

4. Share The Floor

So, at this point you have chosen to have a good conversation, you have identified your emotions and tried to express them to your partner. To be honest, that’s the easy part! Now it’s your turn to listen. I mean really listen. You have the right to think and feel what you think and feel, but that is just as true for your partner as it is for you!

On our couples retreats, we often teach couples that you can be right or you can be happy, but you can’t always be both. It is just as important now for you to hear your partner’s point of view as it was for your partner to hear yours when you were speaking. Of course, if all you are hearing is how lazy or irresponsible he or she thinks you are, then you might want to share this post. The bottom line, though, is that if you want to be heard, you will sometimes have to model what it means to be a good listener.

5. Take A Break If Necessary

No matter how good your intentions are or how hard you try, there is always the possibility that the conversation might still go off of the rails. If it does, don’t panic! We are trying to undo months or years of bad habits and if you’ve made it this far, you are still doing better than many couples! 

When things get heated in a conversation, it becomes difficult for us to think straight. If we feel misunderstood, then our defences go up and when that happens, the conversation goes nowhere fast. The best thing that you can do at this point is to call a timeout. For the sake of the relationship, agree to pause the conversation and take some time – at least 20-30 minutes – to help get your pulse down to a reasonable speed. Remember that you are not ignoring the problem, but are just stepping away from it now so that the two of you can have a better chance of understanding each other later. 

Then breathe! Slowly! Remind yourself that both you and your partner want to have a good conversation. Whatever you do, though, do not spend that timeout dwelling on how unreasonable your partner is or how great the situation would be if your opinion could just be taken for fact. Instead, take the time to check-in and ask yourself what you are feeling and why this conversation matters to you. Write it down! Now, ask yourself what you think your partner is feeling or why this matters to him or her. It's not that she is being unreasonable or he is being a jerk (or at least it's not just that!). Underneath it all, you are probably with someone who wants to be understood just as much as you do. Don’t assume that you are correct in your assumptions, but write them down as well so that you can ask if you are when you come back together.

Considering how important good communication is in our lives, we are surprisingly bad at it. Even most of the masters of relationships aren’t able to identify what they are doing well and that’s pretty frightening. However, with right tools and insight we can all better understand, be better understood and have the conversation that we are meant to have.

For more information about our how we can help you improve your communication, visit our website at reconnectuk.com