Have you ever blurt out something to your significant other and immediately wished you could take it back? I’ve been there. And it doesn’t feel awesome. If you have found this post, my hope is to pass on tidbits of information that will change the way you communicate with your people and understand communication in a deeper way. So here are four tips on how to improve communication with your partner (and really all of those that you love).
Can you recall a recent argument or difficult conversation you had with your partner? Maybe it was a difficult conversation with a loved one. These aspects of communication will apply to any argument or intense disagreement, but are focused around how to improve communication with your partner. Let’s elevate and increase your awareness of what is happening within the words being spoken. I hope by this time you have a conversation in mind.
So let’s talk about word choice and how it can completely change the territory and direction of the conversation. Can you spot the different in these two approaches?
“I was upset that you had forgotten this was our anniversary. I thought we had set aside some time to spend together.”
“How could you be so inconsiderate and selfish! You knew we made these plans and you knew how much I was looking forward to this. You never think about me or us.”
In the first example, the partner states how they were feeling and what they were hoping to happen in the situation. The second example, the partner directly communicates negative qualities about their partner. The comments made are pointed and likely hurt your partner. It is completely normal to be let down by your partner, but the key (shoutout to DJ Khalid) to this part of the conversation is how to approach your partner about the disappoint/other feeling you are experiencing. The best approach is to state the complaint instead of criticizing your partner.
Second, we are going to not only layer the criticism from the latter statement in the above example and add intended meanness or contempt. By meanness, I emphasize that this is when someone deliberately and intentionally carries on the conversation tearing the other person down. Comments made with contempt are belittling to the partner’s experience and promotes one’s own experience as “worse than” what was previously shared. This component of conversations are considered slippery slopes for couples due to its immensely negative impact on a relationship. Can you imagine hearing statements like this on a regular basis? Perhaps every day?
“ Oh, you think you have it hard? (Insert numerous statements that emphasize how the other individual had a more difficult experience.)”
“I can’t believe you’re complaining about _____. You would think with all the time on your hands you would be able to take care of it. I mean I know I would.”
Do these statement evoke any emotion within you? If so, you may have heard similar statements or you may have said these words to your partner. Please hear me when I say, IT HAPPENS. Miscommunications happen and there are words we wish we could take back. If you are reading this, please acknowledge you are already working to improve this aspect of your relationship, and that is important.
Let’s talk about taking ownership. Owning your faults is hard, especially when it comes to taking ownership of a mistake or lapse of judgement . When someone is called out for a wrongdoing or forget to tend to an important task, the typical internal response is to defend one’s action. This defensiveness can follow a critique of character or a critique of how a task was completed/handled. Can you recall a moment where you went on the defensive? Did your partner understand your point of view? Would you say your response was quick or did you take a moment to think of what to say? Let’s review this next example:
Question: “ Hey honey, did you remember to pick up the groceries for the pasta tonight?”
Defensive response: “ I can’t believe you’re asking me that, I told you how busy I was. didn’t you get off work early today? I would imagine you had the time.”
Did you notice the blame placed on the partner who asked the initial question? These responses can happen quickly and arguments tend to only escalate from this point. Check out this response instead:
Acknowledgment response: “ Oh, you know, I completely forgot. I had a busy day and did not remember until just now. It’s on me. What can I do? Is there anything else we can make?”
You may have responded the defensive way in an argument or conflict conversation before, we all have. Becoming defensive will only elicit defensiveness from the other person and can derail a positive conversation quickly. We all make mistakes, we all fall short, and we all forget to do that one thing. Again, I emphasize that this article is all about how to improve your communication with your partner (and loved ones). Hopefully you are recognizing things you have and things you did not know or illuminating new ways to improve communication with those you love.
We can encounter a difficult stance that will drive a conversation into the ground. Have you ever been in the middle of a heated argument and your partner’s eyes begin to glaze over and they go silent? You may ask questions and you get nothing! Maybe you find yourself walking away and tidying up the kitchen. You might find yourself fidgeting with a pen and thinking about going for a run. Whatever it may be, you have now entered or experienced something called “Stonewalling.” If a partner feels unsafe or unheard, they can retreat into themselves. One would benefit from alone time and space to collect themselves before reengaging with their partner.
“ I cannot believe you would do something like that. It was a simple task!”
“ silence…*partner begins organizing and reorganizing shelf*…more silence”
Does that scenario feel familiar? There are moments where you feel so overloaded and full that you can’t imagine how to respond. Your silence is responding for you. And that is okay, but I would encourage you to notice that silence is a good indicator you or your partner needs to take a moment. Feeling emotionally raw and don’t know how to help yourself when you take a break? Here’s another blog post with lots of suggestions to help you.
You’ve made it to the end! Woohoo!
Take a moment to breathe. This is a lot of information. Take a moment. Reflect and write some thoughts down if you feel like you connected with these tips. Communication is happening all the time and all around us. From billboards to social media, we are taking in all forms of communication. Use these 4 tips on how to improve communication with your partner.
If you think there is more work to be done with you and your partner, I’d suggest couples counseling. Whether you are nearing a divorce, struggling with infidelity, just want a tune up, no matter the reason, I am here for you if you need it.
Annelise Hernandez is a therapist at Seaside Counseling Center in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Annelise works with couples, 20 somethings, and perinatal parents online and in-person.