Being Better Series: Communication
Being a Better Communicator
Communication is the key to a healthy relationship. Our style of communicating will inevitably have an effect our relationship. If you or your partner have difficulty communicating you may find yourselves struggling with intimacy and connection. Healthy communication is necessary in our relationships - they thrive and survive off of it.
Merriam-Webster defines communication as “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else”. What is communication like in your relationship? Following are 4 areas of communication that can help enhance connection and trust with your partner or friend.
Often when we think of communication we think of what it is we say to another. It is possible that the biggest factor in being a good communicator is learning to be a good listener. Often during conversations we are thinking of how we are going to reply when someone is talking. Instead of doing that, try to focus completely on what the person is saying. Really listen. Taking that a step further, once the person is done speaking you could respond to the person with a summary of what they said. This helps the person speaking to know they are being heard. Another aspect of listening is eye contact. Make sure you are looking at the person speaking periodically to signal the you are paying attention and interested.
A large part of communication includes speaking up for yourself and your needs in a relationship. This type of communicating can be very difficult for some people since it involves revealing parts of yourself that may feel safer tucked away or kept private. If we can learn to share our deepest thoughts, fears and needs with another person and that person can meet you with understanding and empathy, the relationship gains strength. Be conscious of yourself and what you choose to communicate and if you realize your partner is taking a risk and choosing to share parts of themselves that may be scary, meet them softly and with love. By continously showing up for each other we build trust and intimacy.
One of the biggest barriers to healthy communication is defensiveness. It is often an instinctual decision to protect yourself and possibly have a desire to go on the offensive - saying something that could hurt your partner.
Pay attention to your defensiveness… do you know when it comes up for you? Can you admit to it? The first step in changing a pattern is becoming aware of it. If you find you are becoming defensive - admit to it. You could say “I am realizing I am feeling defensive right now. Can we take a second?” It can be a good idea to take a minute to slow down the conversation and gather your thoughts beyond the quick reflex of defensiveness. If you find your partner is often on the defense it could also help to bring this up gently to them… you could say something like “It seems like you are feeling defensive about what I said - is that true?” Just bringing the defensiveness out in the open can help to deal with it. One of the key factors in bringing up a difficult topic like defensiveness is to try to do it gently and with compassion.
4- Taking a Break
Finally, the idea of knowing when to stop communicating is an important factor that can be easy to forget to think about in our relationships, especially during an argument. If things are heating up between you and your partner and you are getting angry, its ok to take a break. It is better to take a moment away from one another than to say something cruel out of anger or hurt. It is important though if you do take a break, to ensure you come back to the discussion at hand. If you need to take some time to cool down, take the time you need, but make sure to come back to the issue after you’ve had a chance to clear your head. Finding resolution after an argument can help build emotional trust within the relationship.
I hope these topics will inspire thinking around how you can communicate more effectively in your relationships. If anything, it could be a good conversation starter for creating more balance and connection as a couple. If you need help in connecting with your partner or are seeking counseling around your relationship, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist in your area.
Melissa Grohs, MA, LPCC Relationship Counseling for Women