Healthy relationships thrive on communication. After all, a relationship is nothing more than an agreement between two people to love and care for one another. Successful couples share their most intimate thoughts, feelings, and worries with each other. Meaningful social interactions help improve people’s happiness and mood. Humans are social creatures and crave to connect with other people.
People in happy marriages talk to each other at least five hours a week and have a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones. Divorced couples had a 0.8:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones.
It’s plain to see how essential healthy communication is for a successful relationship. You should be able to be open to your loved one, especially if you plan on sharing the rest of your life with them.
One study from YourTango surveyed 100 mental health experts and discovered that communication problems (65%) were the leading causes of divorce, followed by a lack of conflict resolution (43%). It goes without saying that your relationship depends on effective communication.
If you want your love to last, follow these tips:
Communication Tip #1: Active Listening
Everybody knows how to listen, but few people engage with others through active listening. This technique involves more than just hearing and paying attention to what your partner has to say. Active listening involves giving the other person the floor and withholding your judgment and responses. Avoid thinking of what to say next or conversing with a specific objective as these will distract your mind from your partner. Some common active listening practices include:
- Affirming statements: “I see.” “Makes sense.” “Uh huh.”
- Paraphrasing: “What I’m hearing is that you want me to pitch in a little more.” “It sounds like you have been really busy with work.”
- Showing concern: “You don’t have to stress out about finding me an expensive Christmas gift. I know how tough finances can be.” “Do you need more time to study? It sounds like your final is pretty difficult.”
- Sharing similar experiences: “Your story reminds me of when I was in a group project and had to do all the work by myself.” “Yeah, I had a similar situation when my phone died, and I got lost in the city.”
- Asking relevant questions: “When are you expecting to see your parents again?” “Has your roommate followed up on paying her rent yet?”
- Clarification: “What do you mean when you say that I’ve been distant?” “Can you tell me what you meant when you said you weren’t close with your sister?”
- Open-ended questions: “I can tell that you were hurt by my actions. What would you like me to do differently?” “It’s clear that we haven’t solved our financial situation. How can we change that?”
- Summarizing: “It sounds like your week has been stressful because pressure from work and school keeps you super busy.” “From my understanding, you’re reluctant to take a trip since it’s too expensive.”
Active listening can also be reinforced through nonverbal communication. Make sure you maintain a good posture, should face the other person, make eye contact, and nod and smile when they talk.
Communication Tip #2: Active Constructive Responses
When giving feedback to your partner, you want to give an active constructive response. This concept, pioneered by psychologist Dr. Shelly Gable, works as a predictor of future relationship success.
For context, an “active response” is enthusiastic and engaged and a “constructive response” is helpful and positive.
On the other hand, you never want to give a passive or destructive response. A “passive response” is disinterested and a “destructive response” is hurtful or spiteful.
Let’s see what happens when you combine these kinds of feedback together.
Pretend that your partner just came back from an exciting vacation to Italy, and they want to tell you all about it. Here are the different ways you might reply:
Active Constructive (Nurturing): You are incredibly pleased to hear about your loved one’s trip and want to hear all about it.
- “Wow, that sounds so exciting! What was the best part?”
- “Oh my gosh, it must’ve been an amazing experience. What was it like?”
- “That’s absolutely incredible! Do you have any pictures?”
Active Destructive (Hurtful): You respond to what your partner has to say, but add in a negative and displeasing comment.
- “Geez, that must’ve been expensive. Can you even afford that?”
- “I’ve heard that it’s filthy over there. Doesn’t sound like much fun.”
- “While you were traveling, I’ve been working hard to support our family.”
Passive Constructive (Cold): Your response uses positive words, but comes across as sarcastic or uninterested. You might give a passing remark with a bland tone.
- “Oh, that’s nice.”
Passive Destructive (Ignorant): This is by far the worst kind of response. To be passive destructive, you have to be uninterested in a negative tone. These replies mean that you either brush them off or ignore their concerns.
- “Did you pick up groceries yet?”
- “Wait until you hear about what happened to me at work!”
- “I don’t have time for this right now.”
Active constructive responses will help build rapport, trust, and support between you and your partner. All other answers will leave your partner feeling hurt or neglected.
Communication Tip #3: “I” Statements
It can be challenging to bring up your feelings without accusing the other partner of being hurtful. Opening up about your emotions can easily put the other person on the defensive because they think you are accusing them of hurting your feelings. Toxic relationships often involve couples pointing the finger and assigning blame to the other person.
“If only you would actually listen to me!”
“You never help out around the house!”
“You’re always late for dinner!”
“Why can’t you just do the dishes for once?”
Luckily, there is a constructive way to express your feelings without placing the blame on your significant other. “I” statements are commonly used in couple’s therapy and marital counseling to help resolve conflicts. Many bitter feuds begin because one or both partners can’t find a way to express their feelings and then accuse the other of not understanding how they feel. Compare the differences between an “I” statement and an accusatory one with these examples:
You are upset that your girlfriend hasn’t texted you back in over a day. You wonder why she hasn’t taken the time to message you. You think that she might be uninterested in talking to you, which makes you question your relationship’s future. You’re very hurt and want her to acknowledge your feelings.
- Accusatory statement: “Why haven’t you responded to me all day? Do you think I’m just not worth your time?”
- “I” statement: “I got worried and hurt when you didn’t text me all day. I was wondering what was happening.”
Your boyfriend isn’t very close to your parents. He seems somewhat distant and aloof each time he interacts with them. He tends to shy off and acts like he doesn’t want to be there. Your boyfriend mostly utilizes passive constructive responses whenever they ask him anything.
- Accusatory statement: “Why do you keep acting that way towards my parents? They’ve done everything they can to accept you, and you just blow them off!”
- “I” statement: “I feel like you don’t get along with my parents very well and it makes me feel upset.”
Your partner jokingly calls you a mean name. However, you aren’t used to being called by that word, and it makes you upset and angry. They didn’t mean anything by it, but you were hurt.
- Accusatory statement: “Why the hell would you say something like that, you jerk?”
- “I” statement: “I’m very shocked and hurt by the fact that you would call me something like that. I know you probably didn’t mean it, but it made me feel very comfortable.”
Of course, remember that you must use “I” statements in a way that doesn’t blame the other person. Saying something like, “I hate it when you watch television while I’m trying to sleep” or “I’m very disappointed that you could be so stupid and careless” will only make things worse. Acknowledge their actions and your feelings without making the other person defensive. Merely explain why you feel the way you do and say that you want your partner to understand.
Communication Tip #4: Constructive Arguing
Every couple gets into conflicts. The only couples that don’t fight are ones that are due for a breakup. That might sound a bit contradictory at first, but healthy relationships involve a bit of conflict here and there. In fact, 43% of divorces are caused by a lack of conflict resolution. That doesn’t mean that good couples fight all the time, but they do get into arguments and express their emotions. The difference between constructive and destructive arguing all lies within the technique.
Here are some essential differences between constructive and destructive arguing:
Constructive arguments attack the problem. Destructive arguments attack the person.
Stressed out because your fiancé spent all their savings on lavish clothes? Are you worried because your partner never texts you back? Your aim should be to solve the problem and find out the underlying cause behind it. You might discover that there’s been a lack of reliable communication about finances or that your partner doesn’t place the same value on texting that you do. Toxic couples will throw accusatory statements and blame the other person. Healthy couples will express their feelings and focus on the issue at hand.
Constructive arguments try and see the other person’s point of view. Destructive arguments try to force one point of view onto the other person. Empathy is a powerful tool in any relationship. You don’t always know what’s going on in your partner’s mind. You don’t know what their daily life is like and all the influences and thoughts that shape their actions. Your loved one likely has a reasonable explanation for their actions, opinions, and beliefs. Listen to them without judging or caring who is “right.”
Constructive arguments want to make things fair. Destructive arguments wish to a winner and a loser. Relationships are full of compromise. Sometimes you’ll get to choose the music you two get to listen to or the movies you will watch. Other times your partner will get the say. Successful couples want things to be just between both partners. It may involve making necessary sacrifices to do your fair share of the work. You may have to swallow your pride and concede a few points to them. Ultimatums or “my way or the highway” attitudes create toxic relationships.
Constructive arguments mean both sides work as a team. Destructive arguments mean both sides work against each other. Above all else, you two should be working together. Your partner is still your loved one and maybe even your best friend. Even if one or both people have their faults, you two can work together to solve them. This idea, dubbed the Michelangelo Phenomenon, describes how couples can help their partner reach their ideal selves. This term comes from the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo who was said to reveal his subjects’ idyllic images. Likewise, couples can use positive encouragement and constructive criticism to inspire and improve their loved ones.
A healthy relationship is one of the greatest joys any person can experience. In fact, economists believe that a happy marriage feels just as good as making an extra $100,000 annually. Plus, stable relationships come with other benefits such as longer lifespans, better health, and less stress.
Any good relationship starts with communication. Couples who don’t adequately express their thoughts and feelings are doomed to fail. Showing your deeply-held emotions can be uncomfortable, but it’s a far superior option to keeping them bottled up. Learning how to talk with your loved one increases understanding, intimacy, empathy, and happiness.
Basing your relationship on looks or status might bring temporary happiness, but you need good communication to hold it together.