You probably talk to your partner several times a day, but if your conversations mostly consist of “How was work?” and “Guess what Junior did?”, your communication isn’t doing anything to build your relationship. The following communication skills can help you improve your relationship. Make no mistake, these skills may not be automatic, but they can, with practice, be learned.
Stop, look, and listen
If you’re just thinking about what you’re going to say next and waiting for your turn to speak, you’re not really listening. Same goes if you’re trying to have a conversation while you’re doing something else. It’s fine to talk about your day while you make dinner, but important conversations deserve your full attention. Eye contact goes a long way to showing your partner you’re focused on the conversation at hand.
Learn to read your partner
So much of communication is not in the words we say, but our tone of voice, eye contact, posture, gestures, and so much more. There are tons of books on nonverbal communication and, while they can be helpful, be careful. Crossed arms can mean a person is feeling defensive. It can also mean a person is cold. Lack of eye contact may communicate disinterest, but if a person has trouble making eye contact anyway, it may communicate nothing at all.
Reflecting is simply rephrasing and repeating back what your partner is saying. Not like a parrot, but repeating back in your own words the general idea of what you heard. This serves two purposes. First, it forces you to hear what your partner is saying instead of thinking about what you want to say as a response. Second, it helps you clarify what your partner is saying. If you aren’t hearing what they are trying to convey, this will help you both to realize it. If this upsets your partner, explain that you are simply trying to really hear them, and this helps you do that.
If you’ve been betrayed or hurt in the past, this can be really difficult. But if you want your relationship to be all it can be, you have to take that risk.
It’s really easy for discussions to turn into arguments that involve things that happened years ago. Don’t let it happen. If you’re trying to decide who is going to chauffeur the kids to activities, don’t start arguing over cleaning up the dinner dishes. If the conversation does head that way, it may be time to call a timeout. If this is a continual pattern, call me and set up an appointment so that I can give you tools to avoid this from putting a damper on your happiness in your relationship.
Be willing to compromise
It doesn’t matter how right you are, sometimes it’s more important to be happy. That doesn’t mean you should give in every time, you don’t want to turn into a doormat. When an issue is more important to your partner, save your energy for those issues that are more important to you.
Don’t limit communication to just talking
Writing letters, texting, or email are all forms of communication and can help you stay connected with your partner. Try writing letters back and forth, or slip a love note into your partner’s pocket for them to find later.