By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, relationships take centre stage. Whether you’ve already met the love of your life or if you’re still searching, keep in mind the most fundamental element that keeps a relationship running smoothly: communication.
But what does communication really mean? Is it just talking? Not at all! Here are my three best tips for communication:
1. When in doubt, spell it out. Saying what you really mean is a key element to getting your point across. How many times have you said that you’re “fine” when you really aren’t, or that you’re not angry when you really are? These types of miscommunication tend to lead to resentment: “He should have known that I wasn’t fine and asked me why!” The problem with this is simply that people aren’t mind readers. We may believe that our partners should know our every inner thought, need, and desire, but they don’t. Instead, try telling your partner exactly what you want. For example, if you’ve had a hard day and don’t really feel like talking about it at the moment, when you’re partner asks “how are you?”, avoid the “fine” answer. Avoid the “I don’t want to talk about it” answer. Try spelling out exactly what you do feel and need, such as “I had a lousy day, and I don’t really feel like talking about it now. I need a little breathing room to cool down. Maybe in an hour or two I’ll feel like talking about it.” Sure, this is a bit more long-winded than the typical “fine” answer, but chances are you’re also avoiding some drama down the road! By saying exactly what you need, you’re much more likely to get it — there is no guess work involved!
2. If you appreciate something, say so! In our busy lives, gratitude is something that takes a back seat to… well… everything else. When you take a quick moment to thank your partner, not only does it minimize the potential resentment he may feel if he senses his task has gone unnoticed, but it also shows that it makes you happy. In partnerships, we’re (hopefully) often striving to make our mate happy, so it’s great to get verbal confirmation that you’ve succeeded — even if it’s for emptying the dishwasher. Nobody wants their contributions to go unnoticed, so make sure that your partner knows that not only do you see what he’s done, but also that you appreciate it. As a bonus, this type of praise reinforces the good behaviour! (Confession: This is how I get my hubby to consistently empty the dishwasher. Thanks, honey!)
3. Come at it from your point of view. Sometimes an argument is just inevitable. We can’t agree on everything all the time. That said, there is a more effective way to argue that is communicative and can help get to a resolution more quickly. When we approach things from our own point of view, it shows how the problem affects you and also minimizes the chances of your partner become defensive. Keep in mind Tip 1 to spell it out. Let’s use an example: “You never listen to me!” Not only is this not true (she never listens? Ever?), but it is combative and sparks the kind of argument that never gets resolved because there isn’t a specific issue to deal with; it’s too vague. Now, if we break it down, coming at it from your own viewpoint, and spell out what’s bothering you, it make look like this: “I’m feeling like you’re not listening to me when I’m trying to talk to you because you keep looking at your phone and I’m not getting a response to what I’m saying.” In this example, we know that the person is presenting his point of view and shows how this affects him (“I’m not getting a response”). This will lessen the chance of his partner becoming defensive because she probably won’t feel like she’s being attacked. The more clear you can be about what the problem is and how it affects you, the more likely you are to get a desirable response, or at least an open discussion about the issue.
Communication isn’t about simply talking, but how we talk. Whether you’re discussing something silly or a big life decision, try these tips for more effective communication and see if you spend more time having awesome conversations instead of fighting about the dishes.
Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI. Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW.