I am lucky enough to have created something special in my relationship. It’s not perfect of course, but it is generally so easy that it often slips my mind. The success of my marriage has undoubtedly been due to myself and my husband both working on our communication skills.
In the early days I was determined to talk about all my feelings. I wanted to feel that I could be myself fully and be seen and heard for all that I am. Looking back, it was at times exhausting, but I am glad I set a precedent because as we worked our way through our issues we became better and better at communicating with each other.
To know exactly where you stand and have a relationship where you can be your honest, authentic self is, in my experience, the recipe for a great relationship.
Here are my 10 must-do’s to help you communicate more effectively with your partner:
- Make time for a structured dialogue – set aside time on a daily or weekly basis to sit down, without any distractions and speak to your partner. This should be a structured dialogue where one person talks and the other listens without comment. Decide on 3 or 4 questions to answer such as ‘How am I feeling?’; ‘What I would like to appreciate myself/you for”; “My wishes, hopes and dreams”; “Information I need to let you know about my day/week ahead.”
- Listen actively – let your partner finish what they are saying and take a few breaths before you respond. This gives them a chance to complete their thoughts and add anything else they want to communicate.
- Use appreciation in your communication – there is always room for appreciation in your relationship. It is so easy to focus on what is not working. Make a point of regularly telling your partner what you like about them or what you are grateful for.
- Have your own boundaries – remember you are entitled to have your own emotions, no-one can take that away from you. If your partner tries to dismiss your feelings then take a stand. I have often said, “please don’t dismiss my feelings. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you but that is how I feel”.
- Allow room for your partner’s opinions – too many couples waste precious time trying to win an argument and have the last word. Agreeing to disagree is fine and it is healthy to hear an alternative viewpoint other than your own. Even if your partner’s viewpoint does not make sense or appear rational to you it will make sense from their standpoint and it is important to validate each other’s experience.
- Take responsibility for your own emotions – always start with the “I am feeling…..” rather than blaming your partner. Better still, tell your partner how you feel but let them know that they don’t need to do anything about this. Most people think that they need to fix or solve the problem but often it’s unnecessary and so if you say “I don’t need you to do anything I just want you to know how I am feeling” this promotes the idea that you are taking care of your own emotional well-being. Of course it’s okay to ask for a hug though!
- Don’t expect your partner to be as expressive as you – just because you may want to talk about how you feel it does not mean that your partner feels comfortable doing so. Ensure that you express yourself if you feel the need but don’t complain if your partner doesn’t do the same thing. The more you express yourself and make it safe within the relationship the easier you will make it for them to do the same, but it must be in their own time.
- Call a time out – if you get caught in what seems like a never ending argument call a time out. Tell your partner that you need some space and want to gather your thoughts rather than arguing for the sake of it.
- Use empathy – When your partner has had a bad day or is upset put yourself in their shoes and say “I imagine you feel ….. is that how you feel?” You don’t need to get this right but by offering empathy in this way you give your partner the opportunity to check in with their own feelings.
- Be vulnerable & be prepared to get it wrong! – be prepared to make mistakes and for things to get messy. So many people are too scared to say how they feel out of fear of being dismissed or rejected and this is understandable. But if you don’t try you will end up hiding who you really are from your partner. So take a deep breath and express yourself (bearing number 6 above in mind).