Discover how to easily and effectively finetune your relationship communication skills

Category: Better Relationships | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 23-09-2010 | Modified: 17-09-2018

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Part 1, Part 2

Are you dealing with relationship problems and struggling to make progress? Can't seem to communicate with each other without arguments?

I can help!

I'm so pleased you've landed here. Because I can only imagine how frustrated, hurt, disappointed, angry and perhaps even scared you might feel.

Communication in a relationship can be really tricky. I know from professional as well as personal experience.

But the only way you stand a chance of solving at least some of the problems is by communicating effectively.

You've made a great start by trying to find out why the two of you just don't seem to be able to understand and get through to each other. So, onwards and upwards!

I have a comprehensive list of common relationship problems with links to articles packed full of tips and advice. Whatever problem you're facing, know that you'll be able to solve part of it at the very least. 

Just for now, stay here on this page with me. We're going to start by equipping you with some really good communication skills.

(Be sure to also read Part 2 of this series of articles on communication in an intimate relationship.)

Discover the magic of effective relationship communication skills

Let's talk communication

Get your communication right and you'll make a great start on the road to a happy and fulfilling relationship or marriage.

That doesn't mean you're not going to have any relationship issues or marital problems along the way (sorry!)... but it does mean you'll be able to handle them better.

Effective communication is at the heart of any relationship - personal, professional and business. There's nothing quite so attractive in a person as their ability to truly attend and listen.

Ineffective listening, on the other hand, can spoil what you're trying to achieve in terms of building a positive, rewarding, co-operative and loving relationship.

What could be causing your problems with communication?

I'm often asked these questions...

I totally understand that you'd want - and need - direct answers to these kind of questions!

You may feel hurt, and struggle to understand why - after frequent explanations - your partner still doesn't get what you’re saying. You may have repeated the same thing over and over again, and now the issue simply leads to an argument.

Even if you thought you had finally got through, it can be really frustrating when nothing actually changes in the long run.

So let’s look at what’s going on…

No longer the princess and the knight in shining armour?

When you first met your partner, you were really relating to a fantasy. You were flushed with feel-good chemicals and hormones. They helped you to conveniently edit out important information about your new beau. That edited stuff would have been all the things you were happy to turn a blind eye to in the beginning.

You didn't reveal all of yourself either... in some sense, you presented yourself as the princess or the knight and edited out your flaws. (Hey, it’s natural… we all have parts of ourselves that we’d rather keep hidden, at least at first!)

And now you're likely to have reached the point where you're being confronted with the things you previously turned a blind eye to, whether consciously or unconsciously.

You're now both becoming aware of what and who you're really dealing with. And it’s only now that you need to learn to accept, reject, challenge and/or negotiate.

In a good relationship, observing, learning about and communicating about what's inside each of your heads is a continuous process. You're both fine-tuning your own perceptions by trial and error, and creating something more realistic and mature as a result.

Relationship problems creep in when you both think you're talking about/dealing with the same thing when in reality you aren't.

Each of you is prone to missing masses of information, purely because you’re both human! That means that sometimes you might as well be speaking different languages. 

I want to be upfront with you - I may earn a commission from Better Help. You pay the same fee, regardless. 

Why you may not understand each other

This takes a bit of explaining and you may have to reread this section a couple of times.

We're all viewing the world, other people and ourselves through a template.

Already puzzled? Just stick with me.

Your own personal template is shaped by your age, gender, culture, health, previous experiences and so on. It determines the way you see and understand the world around you. It sets the stage for how you interpret what others are saying.

The way I used to help my clients understand how that works was by setting them a task...

I would ask them to both write down which 5 words they would associate with the words love and friendship. They generally both wrote down two or three words that were the same. However, significantly, they would also use several very different words.

Try it for yourself with this exercise

Each write down the first five words that come to mind when you think about the following:

  • love
  • closeness
  • intimacy
  • fairness
  • happiness

Did you both write down the same words?

If you wrote down different words, your internal representations of the initial word itself are different. No wonder you misunderstand each other!

Watch: 18 Relationship communication tips

In case you missed the video at the start of this article...

Having communication issues?
Why you may not both be on the same page

This builds on the above explanation.

As human beings, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think in a similar way to us. They - unconsciously to them and us - confirm the way we see ourselves. So do the books we read, the TV programmes we watch and the music we listen to.

We're constantly filtering out information that doesn't fit with how we see ourselves, without even knowing we're doing it.

Our template colours our interpretation of everything that happens. Based on how we think, we often make assumptions and/or jump to conclusions, without necessarily understanding or appreciating the whole picture. In a sense, we have to - we automatically rely on previous learnings to prevent us from having to start all over again the minute we wake up.

Your partner, therefore, is also viewing the world and other people - including you - through their own personal template.

For example: the words your partner uses are only symbols for whatever’s in their head. Their brain has translated that into language.

Your interpretation of that translation may not come anywhere close to what the other person really meant.

For this reason, it’s no wonder that you misunderstand each other so easily and so often!

Communication Exercise

Step 1
Ask your partner to think of an object, e.g. a chair, a tree, a house, a flower or anything you like.

Step 2
Ask them to pay attention to the colours, fragrances, textures and sounds of and around that object.  

Step 3
Then do the same yourself.

Step 4
Describe in turn what you experienced in your mind. How did the images, smells, sounds and textures differ? What were the similarities?

What's the result?

Taking into account the differences and similarities, can you see now how easy it is to misinterpret what another person is thinking, feeling or doing?

My best relationship communication tip

RESPECTFULLY ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE BOTH DIFFERENT!

You're unlikely to ever feel, think, communicate and love in the same way, because you're genetically, biologically and psychologically different.

Different interpretations and representations aren’t in themselves a problem. In fact, you now know that we all think, feel and understand things in our own unique way.

But relationship communication issues arise when those natural differences aren’t taken into consideration. We misunderstand and miscommunicate when we make assumptions about what someone else means or does.

So it’s vital that you make sure that you understand what your partner means. The only way to do that is to check by simply check! Repeat in your own words what you think you heard them say and ask if you're correct.

I'm going to teach you some pro listening skills now.

First of all…

You cannot *not* communicate

Even without uttering a sound, your body leaks information.

You communicate nonverbally by the way you look, and how you hold and move your head, legs, torso and arms.

You'll no doubt have seen someone folding their arms tightly, rolling their eyes and letting out a deep sigh. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they’re displeased, without them uttering a single word!

So, keep your body language in mind when you don't want your partner to become defensive, argumentative and avoidant.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya AngelouThe feeling that someone is truly listening to you is simply magic

What is *active* listening in relationship communication?

You may well be searching for a magic formula to fix all your relationship problems in one go. I don't blame you... but there isn't one, I'm afraid!

I can assure you, though, that there is magic in really listening to someone.

Truly attending to, seeing and hearing your partner (or anyone else) can make them feel amazing, loved and considered. It can also take the wind right out of their sails should the need arise.

Here's how to listen actively...

7 Advanced listening skills

  1. Concentrate
    on what he or she is saying - don't allow yourself to become distracted. Aim to stay as relaxed as you can.
  2. Ask questions neutrally
    - no  interrogating or interviewing. Start your questions with how, what, when, where. That's how you'll prevent basic "yes" and "no" answers.
  3. Be careful about asking why, though
    - this may come across as critical and make your partner feel defensive
  4. Ask them to expand
    to give you more information, e.g. "Can you say a little more about that?" Highlight any feelings you pick up: "You sound angry/hurt".
  5. Leave space
    for the other person to gather their thoughts. Avoid filling in silences too quickly
  6. Avoid constructing answers in your head
    whilst listening - that means you're disconnecting from your partner
  7. Listen out for any clues
    to underlying problems (without jumping to conclusions - always check your suspicions first)

7 Communication tips on setting the scene for a challenging conversation

1. Prepare your partner in advance

Tell your partner in advance that you want to talk about something important. Let them know you'll really need all of their attention and give them a choice: "Would tonight, tomorrow morning or tomorrow evening be best for you?"

Agree a mutually convenient time to talk.

By preparing the ground you'll have already communicated that this isn't just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill conversation. You'll have also communicated that you respect that your partner has needs too and that you’ve taken those into consideration

2. Deal with potential interruptions in advance.

Avoid distractions from mobile devices or other screens and neighbours/friends popping in. If you have children, choose a time when they’re asleep or out of the house.

3. Create a relaxed atmosphere

Clear up, light candles, make a hot drink, have some munchies, etc.

4. Settle yourself in a comfortable, familiar position

Ideally, face your partner from a slight angle, or simply go for a walk together. In other words, don't start talking whilst standing up doing something else. 

5. Make eye contact

No staring; break eye contact naturally every now and then

6. Avoid fidgeting

Fidgeting is distracting. Remember how important it is to remain relaxed throughout

7. Set yourself up for a positive outcome

You're more likely to be able to achieve a positive outcome if you...

  • Don't aim to solve all your troubles in one go (and some problems are unlikely to ever be resolved!). Just creating the space to hear each other out is a great goal to have.
  • Plan a follow-up date to revisit the discussion

3 Relationship communication tips to further improve your chances of success

  1. Start by suspending all judgements - remember that everything you see, hear or feel is feedback (providing you’re safe, of course).
  2. Tell yourself in advance that you won’t react if your partner becomes critical, defensive or difficult in any way. If the conversation seems to be heading for a row, call time out and wait until you’ve both cooled down before you talk again
  3. Don't be goaded into retaliation and lashing out
  4. Get my Loving Communication Kit for Couples for a huge list of resources to help you build a healthy relationship

Improving your chances of a sparkling conversation

To have a truly meaningful conversation, remember to avoid at all costs:

  • judging
  • jumping to conclusion
  • making assumptions
  • making critical comments about the person (instead, talk about the behaviours you have a problem with)

What if you've messed up before?

It's very likely that you've made communication mistakes - haven't we all!

Perhaps you’ve lost your temper, shouted abuse at your partner or shut down when he/she’s tried to talk to you. If so, don’t beat yourself up about it. 

Acknowledge where you’ve gone wrong in the past, and commit to improving your communication skills. 

It might take a little while for your partner to know how to respond to your new way of having important conversations with them. But be gently persistent and help them to feel like they really can talk to you this time.

Finally

At the heart of effective communication - and therefore at the heart of any relationship - lies the ability to listen and respond appropriately. 

Improve your communication skills and your abilities to problem solve will increase dramatically too.

Remember, you'll also find a ton of advice, guides, tests, tips and quizzes in my Loving Communication Kit for Couples

Part 1, Part 2

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