One of the most important aspects in any relationship is how the two of you communicate with each other. In fact, this is one of the best predictors of whether a couple’s relationship will be satisfying over the years .When couple sit down to talk to each other , they usually have one of two types of conversations

First, they might want to simply share their thoughts and feelings about some topic. For example, you might routinely talk about how each of your days went, what happened with the children, events in the world , or news from family and friends. When you are speaking , your aim to share with the other person and to be heard and accepted. When you are the listener , your aim is to understand your partner. If you can develop skills to have these conversations , it is a gift to your relationship because it means that both of you can share and feel understood , whether discussing the good, the bad or the ugly.

During this type of conversation, the emphasis is not on making a decision or resolving a problem. That is the second type of conversation , which is critical to keep things organised and get things done effectively .

What are you likely to be talking about during these two types of conversations?

Most likely you will be discussing what you both want and need as individuals, what you will do as couple, or how you will interact with the people and environment around you. -the three areas we mentioned above. And good communication is likely to influence how you think , feel and act towards each other. When you communicate effectively , you are more likely to understand each other’s intents and desires and less likely to be upset due to misunderstandings.

Therefore, you behave in more helpful ways towards your partner because you both understand what actions would be best .

Foe example, after Jpoanne began to realise that her depression was tied to feeling less competent as a mother, she was able to express to Ian that what she really needed from him was to listen to her talk about her tough day for a few minutes when he got home from work , rather than telling her to rest and that he would ‘take care of everything’. She was able to share her appreciation for his good intentions in wanting to take care of her, but could also explain that she wanted to feel more competent as well as feeling heard and understood by Ian.

On the other hand , when couples are not communicating well, problems can mushroom , as Tom and Emilly experienced.

Tom and Emily ‘s story

Tom and Emily came to counselling reporting that they didn’t understand each other any more and thus had been arguing more and more.

Emily complained that Tom didn’t listen, and Tom said that Emily talked ‘at him’ instead of ‘with him’. In the counselling sessions , Tom and Emily talked over each other and often rolled their eyes or frowned while the other was speaking .

However, when Tom was quiet , Emily used this as an evidence that she was the only one who cared about their marriage . Both felt alone , misunderstood and discouraged . Overall, Tom and Emily had both developed bad communications patterns and disinterested what the other was trying to say. Although there were many aspects of their relationship that needed to be addressed , they needed to focus on their communication skills early in treatment , so they could talk productively about a wide range of concerns.

Let’s first think about guidelines for conversations that focus on sharing thoughts and feelings, and later we will discuss those focus on decision-making . These guidelines are helpful to people in many different situations , whether they are distressed couples , or happy couples who want to improve their relationships further.

Conversations for sharing thoughtsand and feelings

Couples share what they think and feel all the time. As we mentioned above, these conversations might be about small things, such as what happened during the day , or about major topics , such as concerns about parent’s health . Whereas, it might seem that these conversations just happen, and people don’t need to think about them, we know that they can go well, or they can go very badly. Therefore, we have developed some guidelines that many couples find useful:

The roles of speaker and listener change back and forth during conversation. You can think of one complete round of conversation as one of you speaking, with the second person listening and then summarising what they heard the speaker say. Then the cycle repeats, with the two of you staying in those same roles or switching so that you each have a chance to speak . Here is a brief explanation of the guidelines.

How do I speak to my partner?

  • Speak for yourself , not for your partner.
    • We recommend that you let your partner tell you what they think and feel. One way to maintain this focus on just talking for yourself is to use an ‘I’ statement that links your own feelings to a specific situation or behaviour . Sometimes we refer to this as an ‘XYZ’ statement , as in: ”When you do X in situation Y , I feel Z .’
    • For example , ‘When you tell me to just get over it when I’m feeling really down and discouraged, I feel even more lonely and depressed .’
    • One advantage to using this approach is that it will help you tie your feelings to specific situations , rather than expressing them as global and potentially more hurtful statements .

That is usually easier for your partner to hear, and they are less likely to be defensive in return.

For example, Emily tends to do the cooking in the evening , and would like Tom to help, but doesn’t think she should have to ask him. She sometimes blows up and says things like, @You ‘re so lazy it infuriates me.’ Obviously this just infuriates Tom back. She could try to say ,’When I’m cooking in the evening and you don’t offer to help I get upset.’

The second. Equally important part of this guideline is not speaking for your partner. Many people have a tendency to tell their partner what they are thinking or feeling. Even if you believe that you know exactly what they are feeling, your partner is likely to resent it if you speak for them.

So, speak for yourself about your own thoughts and feelings and allow your partner to speak for themselves .

For example, Emily has difficulty not talking for Tom and said to him, ‘You never listen to me-you just don’t care about things that are important to me.’ To express her thought more subjectively , Emily could have said, ‘Sometimes I feel like you are not really listening to me, and I start to wonder whether the things I care about aren’t important to you.’

Express your feelings as your own subjective experience not as facts, absolute truths.

If you state your thoughts and feelings as facts , your partner is likely to tell you that you are wrong and then tell you their vision of the ‘real truth’ . Then you proceed to argue about who is right or wrong. However, if you express it in a way that clarifies that this is what you think, feel or experiences, whether it is the same of different.

For example, rather than the many ways that Emily can state that Tom is an uncaring person who thinks only about himself, she can instead focus on describing her own experience of feeling unheard , uncared about, or rejected.

Focus on your feelings before moving on to thoughts or opinions.

Feelings provide a lot of information about how you are doing, and that can be valuable to let your partner know what you need or what you are going through. If your partner understands that you are feeling frightened, they can try to help you clarify what feels dangerous and how they might help you feel safer. So, share your emotions, not just your thoughts when you speak.

For example, Emily could add an emotion in her statement above to Tom: ‘Sometimes , I feel like you’re not really listening to me , and I start to wonder whether the things I care about aren’t important to you . When that happens, I feel frustrated and also pretty rejected and sad.’

When expressing negative feelings on concerns, also include any positive feelings you have,

If you can give a balanced expression of both positive ad negative feelings , your partner is more likely to hear the negative ones and respond to them in an understanding way.

For example, if you tell your partner you are angry because they came home late again, they are likely to try to justify their behaviour. However, if you also add that you love being with them and you were looking forward to being together, your partner might respond very differently and be less defensive. Don’t make things up or’ sugar coat’ them , but do acknowledge the underlying positive emotions that are often present if you only look for them.

Tome has difficulty including positive feelings when he is concerned about an issue .

For example, he said to Emily,’ Quit asking me about paying that bill-do you hear yourself?

You are such a nag!

He could have put a positive frame around his concern, and said,’ I know how important it is to you to have the bills paid on time, and you being so conscientious really helps us from getting into trouble financially. But when you keep asking me about the same bill, it makes me feel like you don’t trust me to do it, and that can be really frustrating for me.’

Limit yourself to expressing one main feeling or idea at a time, and then give your partner an opportunity to respond.

Listeners have trouble staying forced when the speaker goes on and on. It becomes difficult to process everything they are staying, and we want your partner to understand what you say. Therefore, limit yourself to just a few sentences , may be five or six, and then give your partner a chance to respond . You’ll have an opportunity to say more, just don’t do it at all once.

For example, Emily feels overwhelmed and wants to vent everything she is feeling to Tom – this comes out as a steady stream of concerns and complaints and fears that Tom can only listen to for a few minutes before he starts shutting down . If Emily were able to voice her concerns one at a time , giving Tom a chance to respond , the conversation would feel more productive and better for both of them.

Choose your words and timing carefully, most of us have ‘hot buttons’ and when those buttons get pushed, we don’t respond well. So think about how you express yourself. You want to be honest, but speak in a way that your partner can hear you without becoming more upset than necessary . So rather than saying that your partner is just like their parent (in some uncomplimentary way), just tell them specifically what is bothering you.

Choosing when to talk can be as important as how you talk. Bringing up a major concern as your partner is going to sleep or leaving the house doesn’t allow time to discuss the issue, and they might resent feeling pulled into a conversation at that time . If you are going to raise a difficult issue , do it when you’re both available to have a thoughtful discussion .

For example, sometimes Tom tries to start conversation with Emily while she is at her computer checking emails , and she is distracted ; as a result both of them feel frustrated. Before starting a serious conversation it can be helpful to check whether it is a good time or whether it would be better to wait a few minutes to wrap up whatever task is currently be done.

How do I listen to my partner?

Being a good listener can be mush harder than being a good speaker. Here are some ways you can show your partner that you want to understand what they are saying. You need to let your partner know you are interested and engaged while they are speaking and respond constructively after they have finished .

** Respond while your partner is still speaking

Engage with them and make sure they know you are engaged! Make certain that you aren’t occupied in order ways so you can focus on the conversation. That means don’t have the conversation while your are watching television, are on the computer , or are doing other tasks.

For example, Emily gets infuriated when Tom looks down to check his email on his phone while they are talking . You don’t want to interrupt your partner, so use non-verbal expressions or body language to show you are listening: maintaining eye contact , turning towards your partner and avoiding scowling , foot tapping and exasperated sights. You might occasionally nod, and your facial expressions can demonstrate that you understand what your partner is feeling.

When your partner is speaking , you should try to just listen and understand their perspective, whether you agree with it or not. You don’t have to agree with them , but you can still, show that you understand their experience and accept that this is what they think and feel. If they do express ideas and feelings you don’t share , you don’t need to prepare a rebuttal of defence of yourself while they are speaking . Your job for now is just to listen .

Some you will be in the speaker role and you can share your own perspective then.

Respond after your partner has finished speaking.

The best way to demonstrate that you’ve heard your partner is to use your own words to summarise or paraphrase what you’ve heard . This is what we call a REFLECTION.

For example, ‘You’d like us to be more affectionate with each other, just holding hands or snuggling . Your sense is that might help us feel closer .

Is that right?

Don’t shift the focus by asking lots of questions (except for clarification) , interpreting what your partner just said(‘You said you want to just snuggle , but I know you’re hoping it will lead to sex’), or adding your own opinion . Just listen and let your partner know that you got the message by reflecting.

Reflecting can seem awkward and unnatural at first, but if you listen carefully to conversations around you, you’ll find that many people actually do reflect others ‘ comments naturally. The major goal is to create a conversation where you both express yourselves, feel listened to and respect , and have a sense that you understand each other better. This approach to communication applies whether you are just having a brief check – in about your day or are addressing a very important issue.

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