Written by Writer’s Corps member Cara Mackler
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before: communication is the key 🔑 to any relationship. It sounds cliché but it’s true. I think it’s really easy to tell people that communication is important in a healthy relationship but it’s not as easy to explain how to communicate. And if we’re never taught how to use this key, then we’ll never be able to open the door to healthy communication.
Communication is defined as a lot of things but my favorite definition includes, “the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings”. I always say I’m a great talker, but I have to also be an equally great listener in order to be a great communicator. Communication is about expressing yourself in a healthy way, listening to your partner when they are doing the same, and really hearing and absorbing what the other person has to say.
Below are 5 tips for communicating better in your relationship:
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Communication is not just about talking about each other’s days and saying what you had to eat for lunch. It’s about being able to dig deep and get to know this person as well as you can. It’s not always easy to dig deep, especially for those who have never been comfortable talking about their feelings. And it’s not necessary to make every conversation a heart to heart.
There are ways to do this without pressuring your S.O. to spill their deepest secrets. For example, instead of asking yes or no questions like “Did you have a good day?” try asking more open-ended questions like, “How was your day?” Yes, they may respond with a brief non-answer (“good”, “fine”, “the same”), but asking open-ended questions gives them an opportunity to share more if they choose to. Keep in mind that not everyone opens up very easily. Be patient with your partner if they are not sharing all the time. We set boundaries around our emotions and everyone’s boundaries are different. So, be mindful and respectful of their emotional boundaries, and they should be equally mindful and respectful of yours.
Ultimately, the more you get to know your S.O. on a deeper level, the more open and honest you may be with each other. And honesty breeds trust, which are two very important pillars of a healthy relationship (hint: communication is another super important pillar!).
2. Pick Up on Nonverbal Cues
If your partner says “my day was fine” but their tone sounds irritated, upset, or angry, then there may be something else that they’re feeling but not yet ready to communicate. Communication is not just about the words we say but also how we say them. Our tone and our attitude give away a lot more than just the words coming out of our mouths. And it’s honestly a skill to be able to pick up on those nonverbal cues. Look at your S.O.’s facial expressions, their hands (are they trembling/fidgety?), their body language (Are they making eye contact? Are they crossing their arms?) and listen to their tone of voice.
3. Don’t Try to Read Their Mind
Sometimes you can tell just by looking at someone what they may be feeling. It’s not always easy to do this and let’s face it: as much as we want to be mind readers, we aren’t and shouldn’t have to be. So, if you’re not sure what your partner is feeling, ask them.
If you’re the one holding things in and expecting your partner to read your mind, take a moment to appreciate the fact that your partner is making an effort by asking you what’s going on rather than ignoring the problem. Do your best to let them know how you’re feeling when you’re ready to open up about it. It’s not healthy to say you’re okay when you’re not and then get mad at your partner for not figuring it out. Be honest about how you feel to the best of your ability, and try to express it in a healthy way before it gets to the point where it blows up and someone says something they regret. Being direct is always better than being passive aggressive.
If your partner is the one who is guilty of being passive aggressive, try letting them know that it’s not really helpful for either of you when they’re not honest about how they feel. Of course, it’s awesome when we know each other so well that we can practically read each other’s’ thoughts and know exactly what to say in the right moments, but we’re human and we may make mistakes sometimes or miss cues that seem obvious to our partner or vice versa. It’s important that you both make an effort to better understand each other and be patient with each other, too.
4. Conversations are a Two-Way Street
As you communicate with your partner take note of how many times you say “I”, “You”, or “We”. If the conversation is mostly about yourself, it’s not really a conversation. Remember to turn it back to your S.O. and ask questions about how they feel, what their thoughts are, and what’s going on with them. If you find that you’re saying “You” a lot, what’s the context? Are you pointing fingers and placing blame?
Relationships are about both people, and each should have an equal say about things. Both people need to feel heard and be able to share what’s on their mind. If you feel like your partner is the one overtaking the conversations and you can’t get a word in, it’s important to let them know this. They may not be aware that they’re dominating the conversation. Conversations are like a tennis match; it should flow naturally back and forth to each person.
5. Set Aside Time to Talk
My partner and I recently moved in together and we were warned by practically everyone that it’s a “make or break” situation for couples. We were nervous, but we both had an arrogant attitude of ‘we got this’. We have always been great at communicating openly and honestly with each other. We had no idea how living together would change the way we had to communicate, but it certainly did.
The first three weeks together, we bickered constantly. We were so upset about the bickering (rather than the thing we were actually arguing over), that we ended up bickering about the fact that we were bickering! Have a headache yet? Yep, we had one for about three weeks straight. Because we are so not that couple, we finally sat down and talked it out.
We had to learn a completely new way of being with each other since we were now sharing the same space. We talked about the things that mattered (like how to spend our money) and the things that ultimately didn’t matter (who takes out the trash). Talking about those things were crucial because we would never have known what actually mattered to the other person had we not sat down to discuss it.
Ultimately, we learned that none of our bickering was about the actual things we were fighting about, but rather it was about not feeling heard or appreciated. From that day on, we decided to have what we call “Bae Sesh”, a weekly ‘session’ where we set aside an hour to speak our mind in a judgment-free space. This allows us to feel heard and respected.
Obviously, our hour-long “Bae Sesh” may not work for everyone, but it definitely works for us. We’ve been able to avoid larger conflicts, actively listen to each other, and bond and feel closer to each other because of our Bae Sessions. We may talk every day, but with both of us being so busy with work and life it’s nice to set aside time for something a little deeper.
6. Tell Them What You Need From Them
Sometimes I just want to vent and feel validated by having my partner support me by saying, “Yeah that really sucks I’m sorry!” Other times, I want advice. Like I said before, none of us are mind readers, so it’s important to try to keep your partner informed so that you’re on the same page. Saying something beforehand like, “I need to vent right now and I’m not looking for any advice, just your support,” or, “I really need your advice on this situation,” will let them know exactly what you need in that moment.
Being direct about what you need can alleviate some of the miscommunication or stress in a given situation, too. By letting them know ahead of time, we can maybe prevent those unnecessary disagreements brought on by a miscommunication.
Communication is a Skill
Ultimately, communication is a skill, which means there’s always room for improvement. Work together with your partner to figure out how you can maintain healthy communication and stay on the same page. Be as honest, direct, kind, and thoughtful as you can. Whether it’s with a Bae Sesh, or simply making a bigger effort to open up to each other.