How to Communicate Better in Your Relationship: An Exercise
May 6th, 2018 ~ Demetra Nyx
Healthy relationships bring up our biggest wounds. Our partners tend to trigger our childhood issues, or we project our past relationships onto them, or they bring up our insecurities.
This is a gift, when worked through consciously.
It is also hugely important, because it means that your problems with our partners are rarely their faults.
Communication problems in relationships tend to stem from our inability to fully express our needs to our partners. An inability to communicate our deepest thoughts and feelings inevitably means our needs will not be understood or met. This is because our partners cannot read our minds.
Simultaneously, if our partner is not communicating their needs to us, that means that we can’t understand what’s coming up for them, why they’re shutting down, or why they’re truly irritated with us.
And typically that means that the other person will make up in their head what must be going on with their partner – instead of just asking them directly.
So, what to do?
It would be great if we could all just keep this in mind and try to communicate better (eg not be afraid to be vulnerable, express our needs, etc) – and we can try – but this doesn’t come naturally to most people.
That’s why it can be super helpful to have a set time each week to give each person a space to express everything they’re holding back.
A really simple way to do this is to have your partner sit next to you (it tends to be easiest if you’re not looking directly at one another) and then set a timer. Seven minutes is a great span of time.
Then each of you will take turns speaking, saying anything you need to say to your partner.
Now, if you’re someone who likes to self-express, you might not need any sort of prompt — you can just talk about anything you need to.
If it doesn’t come easily, though, and you or your partner need some guidance (chances are one of you will), you can consider these questions:
- Is there anything your partner did that hurt you this week? Why did it bother you, and how did it make you feel?
- What needs do you have that aren’t being met by your partner?
- What are you insecure about with your partner?
- What are you having a hard time about with life in general?
The most important part of this is to not hold back, at all. No matter what you think their reaction is going to be.
If these questions scare you, it’s a great sign that your communication with your partner isn’t as good as it could be. And great communication = a way happier you, and also better sex.
It’s also important to take responsibility for your feelings, here. This is not a space to attack your partner, it’s a space to express your feelings. So use *I* statements: “I felt like this when you did this.” Instead of saying “You should have ___,” say, “It would have helped me feel better if you ____”. Things like that.
The role of the listening partner is just that: to listen.
The listening partner never, ever responds. They fully listen and hold space for their partner. And then when the timer goes off, they simply say, “Thank you.” And then the roles switch.
When both partners are done, you can hug and move on if it feels good to do so, or if there’s something you feel is still unresolved, you can ask your partner if they’re open to discussing that part further.
But, how will you ever fix anything if you don’t always find a perfect solution?
I’ll tell you a secret:
You don’t have to come up with a solution for every single conflict you have in your relationship. Not everything needs to be fixed. Sometimes all it takes to feel better is having your feelings heard and supported. And over time, you’ll learn to understand one another more.
Some things do need to be discussed, though – and this practice can be helpful then too. Once you meet your own needs after an argument (take space, go to the gym, etc), you can use this practice to start off the discussion, so each partner feels like they’ve been heard.
It’s also good to go into this practice not expecting it to be perfect. Most people are uncomfortable having to express their feelings for 7 minutes straight. The rules are that the timer must run for 7 minutes, but moments of silence are totally normal. And it’s okay if someone feels like they run out of things to say. Let the timer run anyway.
Keep in mind that men (and people raised masculine) especially tend to have been taught that it’s not okay to be vulnerable with other people. Give them some time to trust the exercise and to trust that they can admit their needs to you (and to themselves), and that you won’t get personally offended or freak out when they do.
Try it, and let me know how it goes for you! And if the exercise still isn't totally clear, you can listen to me talk through it here.