6 Ways to Communicate Better in Your Relationship
12 July 2018 ~ Demetra Nyx
Do you struggle to express yourself clearly to your partner? Do you often argue about the same things?
Do you wish you could stop the conflict, but don't really know how?
Maybe you already don't argue very much, but still want to work on your partnership (awesome).
I have six tips for you that can help you be a wayyy better communicator - and help you have way better relationships.
1. Validate your partner's feelings
This can be incredibly hard, but it's also incredibly important.
The moment your partner starts expressing themselves to you, search for the root of what they're saying. Are they upset about something you did? Are they sad because they're feeling hurt?
Especially if you feel yourself getting defensive, start by acknowledging that it makes sense for them to feel how they're feeling. This is basically you saying that you understand how, if you were them and had all of their past experiences, you might also feel the same way.
The key sentence here is: “I understand how that could feel _____ to you."
"I understand how me not cleaning up could feel frustrating to you."
"I understand how it could feel hurtful when I don't call you back."
"I understand how me looking at my phone could make it feel like I don't care about what you're saying."
This doesn't mean your partner is right, and it doesn't mean you have to agree with them. It just acknowledges that you hear their feelings and that their feelings make sense from their perspective - and when you can do that, you create a bridge into finding common ground.
2. Truly listen
I know, "listen better" feels like a boring tip.
It's not, though - it's actually super important, and more nuanced than you might think.
Listening to your partner isn't about you hearing what they're saying. Listening to your partner is about you giving them the gift of your entire presence.
You are giving them the gift of being heard.
This is something most people don't know how to give. It involves putting down what we're doing, fully focusing on our partners, and listening to hear, not listening just to respond.
If your partner is talking to you and you are doing something else, say: "I want to give you my full attention. Can you tell me this in ten minutes?"
If you are talking to them and they are doing something else, say: "I want to tell you this story but you look busy. Can I have your full attention? (or, when is a better time?)"
It's not realistic to be able to give our partners our full attention all of the time, but this is incredibly helpful when the subject is important.
If you are arguing: listen to hear what’s underneath what they’re saying. Often what we argue about isn't really what we're arguing about. For example, maybe your partner gets annoyed when you throw the laundry on the floor - but what's underneath that is that they feel like you don't care about their opinions or feelings.
There are also sometimes gender differences when it comes to communicating and listening - not always, since gender is a large spectrum, but often. The following few paragraphs come from Alison Armstrong's work:
Generally, women want to be able to empty out allll the contents of their day to their partners, sometimes all at once. Other women tend to innately know how to listen to this.
But for men, the key to listening to a woman when she's doing this is to let her talk, without trying to figure out what the point is or what she wants.
When she finishes talking, it can be helpful to ask: then what happened? Is there more? What else did you do?
Men typically don't communicate this way. And because men tend to use less words, and think about what they're saying more, the key to listening to men is to be patient and wait longer.
If you are a woman listening to a man, stop interrupting him. If he stops talking, wait 30 seconds - often he'll continue speaking if you give him space.
We communicate differently. We know this, right? In general, the answer to "how was your day?" from a woman is minutes long - the answer from a man is usually: "good."
3. Own your own stuff
When having an argument, it can be really helpful to feel inside your own body to understand what's happening.
What is this triggering in you?
Usually, arguments with our partners either trigger things from our past relationships, or things from our childhoods.
As an example: when my partner raises his voice at me, I tend to immediately feel hurt, unloved and defensive.
I know this is my trigger because in reality, he didn't do anything wrong - he was just feeling frustrated and his voice went up.
When I feel into my body, there’s a little girl part in me that feels like dad is yelling and she doesn’t understand why, and she feels hurt.
Does that mean my partner should never raise his voice? No, not necessarily. It has to be a combination.
I have to recognize that me feeling immediately unloved and afraid when his voice raises is my stuff.
And he has to learn what that triggers in me, too, and to understand why he’s yelling in the first place.
If you struggle figuring out your triggers and want to understand them better, I'd love to help you work through it.
4. Make an effort to see them and meet their needs
Your partner is different than you. This means that their needs are different than yours, and their entire world perspective might be different than yours.
And not only that, but you and your partner are both changing every single day. Essentially, your partner is a tiny little bit different every time you see them.
This means that it's incredibly important to get to know them and their needs - and to understand that needs can change over time.
Part of being a caring partner is to get to know your partner's core wounds: what triggers them the most? Do they often feel insecure or unloved by you? Do they often feel unsafe?
Can you check in with them to see if they are actually feeling that way, or if you're projecting that onto them?
How can you better meet their needs?
5. Tell your partner what you need and how to handle you
Number 4 kind of makes it seem like it's all on you to figure out what your partner needs - but that's not true.
It's true it's partially your responsibility to learn about your partner, and to want to help them work on themselves.
But if your partner never tells you what they're feeling or how to handle it, you're going to have a really hard time.
This is why it is essential to let our partners know how best to handle us.
Do you tell your partner what you need? Or do you expect them to read your mind, and then get mad when they don't?
Perhaps the most important part of communicating well with our partners is to understand *ourselves* so deeply that we know what is coming up for us in each moment.
This is a long process, and doesn’t happen overnight. It requires understanding our own wounds (number 3) and getting to know our partner’s (number 4), so we can express when they are triggering us and understand when we are triggering them (and not take it so personally).
A really helpful tip I have for this is to literally explain to your partner how you would like them to handle you in your worst moments.
This maybe isn’t the most magical or most romantic, since it means they are not reading your mind and automatically knowing exactly how to handle you. But it works.
Do you frequently get depressed by the weight of the world? Do you get incredibly irritated when you’re hungry? Do you get really sad sometimes for no reason? Do you sometimes shut down and become unable to speak during an argument? Do you sometimes freeze during sex?
What would you like your partner to do for you in those moments?
Something Tanner knows to ask me when I’m emotional is: “What do you need in this moment?”
It works well for me, and it works so well because months and months ago I told him to ask it to me.
Prep your partner ahead of time. Whenever you have a breakdown or a conflict, analyze it after and let them know what came up for you and how you would like them to handle a similar moment next time. And let them know how you would like to handle it better next time, too.
Relationships frequently have the same “themes” come up in arguments - the key is to understand why, what this theme activates in you, and to learn how to deal with it better and better, together.
Do you do this with your partner? What are some things or phrases that help you?
6. Talk about sex!
If your sex life is suffering, your relationship is suffering.
Our sexual energy feeds our life force energy, our power, our creativity, and more. If we aren't flowing in that area, we're blocking other areas of our lives - and we're restricting us from our full access to pleasure.
Our natural essence is joy and pleasure.
No one is born knowing how to have incredible, ecstatic, mind-blowing sex. And instead of anybody teaching us, most of us grow up learning that sex is dangerous, dirty, and not allowed. We learn that it should be hidden. And also, we should be really good at it, but only with our spouses, and only in private. But we should look sexy to everyone. But not too sexy. Right?
On a deep, deep level, we tend to register that being sexual is dangerous. This is exponentially increased if we've experienced trauma in this area - and lots of us have.
Talk to your partner about sex. Let them know what you need in order to orgasm. Let them know the things you like during sex, the things you might like to try one day, and the things that don't. Let them know things past partners did that you didn't enjoy. Let them know the things that make you feel unsafe or that trigger you or take you out of the moment. Let them know what they did well, and let them know what you didn't like.
It can be hard to give constructive criticism to our partners about sex, since it can be such a touchy topic to begin with. A good way to handle this, if it feels too sensitive right after, is to wait for a time when you're not both naked in bed.
It can be really productive to bring it up later, clothed over dinner, and just say: "Know that thing you did earlier? I really liked that. I don't think I like when you do ___. Maybe if we could try ___?"
And encourage your partner to tell you what they like and what they don't. Let them know that you would be happy to hear constructive criticism.
You want to please them, right? Ask them how you can do it better.
I'm currently offering free coaching for men: email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "free coaching."
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