How To Improve Relationship Communication
I often joke that there are a lot of perks being married to a therapist, but one thing that is no joke is that Jon has helped me see and understand my patterns better, which has ultimately helped me improve how I communicate in relationship. We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary yesterday and I wanted to share some of the key things I have learned that have helped me improve how I communicate in our relationship.
1. Listen (like, actually really listen)
I used to think that I was a good listener but this was actually not really the case. The reality is, I grew up in a very chaotic household with a ton of people; at a baseline 2 adults + 7 kids, but we also had grandparents and other relatives bunking with us periodically. The result was that I developed two habits: 1) generally just fighting to be heard, and 2) a somewhat adversarial conversation style where I would literally be forming my next argument while the other person was still talking, which meant that I wasn’t even really listening to what they were saying to begin with. I have worked so hard to break this pattern so that I truly listen first before responding, and wouldn’t you know, it makes conversations so much better!
2. Don’t expect your partner to mindread -- speak your mind
If you’re someone who is not a fan of conflict or confrontation, you might fall into a pattern where you expect your partner to read your mind...and then totally get grumpy when they don’t. (Yes, I am speaking from experience here. #humbling) One of the greatest things you can do in a relationship is trust the other person and speak your mind.
3. Be OK with imperfect communication
I seriously cannot count the number of times I have started a conversation with Jon with, “OK, I’m struggling to find the words but here goes…” or “This may not come out perfect…” or “I’m nervous about bringing this up but I’m going to just dive in…” It is incredibly liberating to just be direct and not worry about getting the words right. In fact, just recently I apologized to a friend who I felt I let down because I let my inability to find the “right” words get in the way of just saying, “I honestly don’t know what to say but I am here for you.” She was so gracious in receiving my apology and it made me double down on my belief that it’s better to not get bogged down with perfection when it comes to communication.
4. Identify (and act on) the small things that make one another feel loved and cared for
When you’re in a relationship, you have countless touch points every day and if there are children in the equation, a ton of those touch points are likely logistically oriented. However, you will each likely have little things that make you feel cared for, whether it’s a quick passing hug, a text during the day, or just asking (while really listening!) “How are you?” Identifying those small things, and fulfilling them for one another, is like filling up the relationship gas tank.
5. Assume the best before assuming the worst
I have realized that it’s very common in relationship to dwell on what the other person is not doing or assume a less favorable scenario. And I have realized that I also tend to assume that other people are assuming this about me! Meaning, I have figured I need to explain or qualify how I’m spending my time so the other person knows I’m pulling my weight. At one point when I was doing this, Jon said something like, “Hey, I think we both know that we both are conscientious and contribute a lot around here. Why don’t we just assume that and not feel like we need to explain what we’re doing?” IMMENSE REPEATED BURDENSOME PATTERN LIFTED.
6. Come ready for a conversation, not a fight
When couples are bristling over something, it’s common to come to a conversation where you’re not actually really ready to converse, you want to fight. I recommend taking a moment to pause and really think, “OK, am I ready to talk or am I too pissed off about this right now to have a conversation?” And if the answer is that you’re too angry, say so and return when you’re ready to truly sit down for a conversation.
7. Ask for help before totally freaking out
OK, so I am still working on this one but I’m making progress! I have a high capacity for shouldering responsibility and I have a tendency to just put my head down and power through my to-do list without realizing how much my freaked out, dumpster fire state is impacting people around me. I have learned that it is better for the entire family system if I ask for help before totally losing it.
8. Remember that compromise is not “losing”
I have learned so much from Jon about compromise (tune in to this entire podcast episode we did on the topic!) and the biggest thing is to bear in mind is that compromise is not equal to losing. Compromise reflects the ability to trust and communicate and be a team. It’s a powerful thing that can help your relationship get stronger.
Happy anniversary Jon. Thank you for sticking it out while I figured out how to break my adversarial habits!