10 Steps to Effective Couples Communication
How can you make discussions with your partner more productive?
Posted May 3, 2016 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
From the age of about 2, people start earnestly practicing the skills of persuasion and debate. Of course, our earliest oral arguments are typically sentences of just a single word or two. Hearing the plaintive “Noooooo” or the emphatic, “MINE” issued at full volume by a toddler can be quite jarring in its intensity and passion.
Unfortunately, some of us grow up in homes where we learn that a loud voice and unshaking commitment to a position can win the war. Some children are more than willing to “hold their breath until they turn blue.” Parents fret and give in just to keep the peace. Other children may grow up in homes where their opinions and desires are given no consideration and they take the position of “one down” as adults, not expecting others to acknowledge their wishes.
Diplomacy is a Desirable Quality
In a perfect world, we would all learn early that “give and take” communication can be much more productive than trying to unilaterally stake claims without taking others’ feedback into consideration. Diplomacy is a skill that is well worth learning. The need of diplomacy isn’t felt just in international relations; it’s also highly valuable in “domestic relations,” including your own personal nearest and dearest relationships, as well.
Strong Communication in the Living Room = Higher Sexual Satisfaction in the Bedroom
One of the most frequently focused on area in couples therapy is communication skills. Regardless of your age or the length of your relationship, being able to engage in effective discussions with your partner will probably result in higher relationship and sexual satisfaction. A study of college-aged couples (Mark & Jozkowski, 2013) indicated that they valued effective communication and its presence heightened their pleasure in the relationship overall.
If you don’t know how to ask for what you need, you are less likely to have your needs met. Luckily, it is never too late to enhance your communication skills and increase your chances of being both heard and understood. Effective communication requires the mastery of active listening; this skill is a standard part of the curriculum in most every helping profession preparation program, but it also is useful for anyone trying to improve their effectiveness in negotiations and relations.
10 Steps for Discussing the Trivial to the Traumatic with your Partner
- Get comfortable – and if it’s a difficult topic you plan to discuss, someplace relatively “neutral” works best. Don’t talk about money in bed, for instance.
- Give your partner your full attention. Turn off or put down any distracting technology. Lean in towards your partner a little bit. Let your body language send a message of connection–especially if you are concerned that topic may create distance, at first.
- Look at your partner and make eye contact. Don’t try and “stare down” your partner, but don’t send a message that you’re afraid to face your partner, either. If your eyes wander, bring them back to your partner’s face.
- Open up with an “I statement” that takes the pressure off your partner. This doesn’t mean something like “I need you to change,” either! Own your own feelings and use language that indicates your awareness that each of us is responsible for our own thoughts and behavior.
- Invite your partner to share her perceptions that the use an open question (one that doesn’t invite a one- or two-word answer).
- Don’t interrupt! Stay focused, attentive, and connected. Even if you particularly like or simply don’t agree with what is being said. Hang in there and keep your focus on the overarching goal of honest communication—a better relationship.
- Reflect back to your partner what you think your partner is saying—check in with your partner to make sure you are hearing the overall message, not just the words. Check back in with your partner, “What I hear you saying is…” or “If I understand you correctly, then I think you feel…” This lets your partner know that you really care about the message being conveyed and that you are invested in making sure you heard it accurately. It also helps you empathize with your partner's perspective -- it's amazing how different a relationship can look to two different people!
- Use collaborative language and recognize that when the two of you are in a room, there’s a third entity present—the relationship. Couples counselors are taught that working with a couple means there are “three clients in the room, each member of the couple and the relationship itself.” What you or your partner thinks “best” for yourselves or one another may not reflect what is “best” for the relationship.
- If there’s a problem that you are trying to solve, communicate your ideas for solutions with tentativeness. Maybe something like, “Well, perhaps we could try…” Or, “What if I did ... and you did ..." Or, maybe even better yet, “I’m stuck. What do you think we need to do next?”
- Keep the communication flowing, be willing to listen, make sure you are really hearing the message your partner is sending, and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know.
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Mark, K. P., & Jozkowski, K. N. (2013). The mediating role of sexual and nonsexual communications between relationship and sexual satisfaction in a sample of college-age heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex & Marital therapy, 39, 410-427.