Relationship Communication Strategies
Effective communication is essential to all our relationships, and it can be particularly crucial to a successful couple relationship!
For many couples, learning how to communicate their perspectives and emotions, resolve conflicts and discuss issues, can be challenging. Learning to how to communicate your needs and your perspective, respectfully and effectively is the first step to building a sense of connection, intimacy and getting your needs met in a relationship.
Below are some essential compassionate communication strategies that can help you improve your relationship.
Learn to phrase your statements as ‘I think….’ Or ‘I feel….’
When you say “I’ statements, they help identify your statements as your perspective or your opinion, which can help your partner hear it as such.
Avoid using absolutes like ‘always’ and ‘never’, especially when talking about issues.
When we use absolutes, it minimizes the chance for change. Telling our partners that they ‘never take out the trash’, will not encourage change as it will belittle any efforts they have put in and foster feelings of ungratefulness.
Separate action from emotion
First let me explain what I mean by separating action from emotion.
Partner A: When you do x (an action), it makes me feel like y (emotion)
Partner B: Sorry! I didn’t mean to make you feel y (emotion), I was (offers alternative individual perspective of x).
I’ll explain using a scenario.
Scenario: One partner hasn’t had the chance to call the other partner back while they were at work.
Partner A: Why have you been ignoring me all day?
Partner B: What? When? I haven’t ignored you! I’ve just been busy!
That is immediately a defensive conversation, that will probably just escalate!
When you try and separate action from emotion the conversation might be:
Partner A: When you don’t call me back, it makes me feel ignored.
Partner B: Sorry! I didn’t mean to ignore you, it has been a very busy day at work and my phone battery died, so I couldn’t call you back.
Similar to the first communication strategy, separating action from emotion allows us to state our perspective, while allowing our partner to state theirs as well. It also allows us to express the impact our partners action have had on us, without blaming.
Often, the biggest obstacle to us listening to our partner is when ourselves don’t feel heard. Learning how to ‘actively listen’ to your partner, rather than just ‘hear’ them, is a key skill towards good communication.
Active listening is about listening to understand our partner, rather than to reply back. You can learn how to actively listen to your partner by practicing active listening as an exercise, where you take turns to be Partner A & Partner B.
Partner A is to talk for 2 mins, on any topic of their choice. In the beginning of this practice, please do not choose a topic that is sensitive or one that has caused conflict.
Partner B is to listen to Partner A, so focus, with no distractions and please do not interrupt. At the end of the 2 mins, paraphrase back to their partner their understanding of what has been said. This helps clarify common misconceptions and misunderstandings that occur.
We can practice active listening by doing this on a regular, everyday basis as well. Learn to paraphrase back to your partner what you are hearing from them, before responding. This is a particularly useful technique to manage conflict, as it reduces misunderstandings and makes us feel heard.
Role playing as Inquirer and Initiator
The I-to-I (Initiator-to-Inquirer) exercise was originally developed by Bader & Pearson as a tool to create intimacy during conflict. The exercise has been highly recommended by The Relationship Institute as creating intimacy through tension.
In the practice of this exercise, the partners adopt two distinct “roles”- of the Initiator and the other as the Inquirer.
The focus for the initiator is to help your partner “know your reality” by framing their perspective in the structure of separating action from emotion (see above- “I feel x because of y”). The idea is to express yourself and your “reality”- i.e. your emotions and feelings, but not to assign blame.
The focus for the Inquirer is on exploring the reality of the Initiator. In this exercise, the inquirer is meant to put on hold his/her views, opinions and feelings and focus on their partner! If needed, act as if you are talking to a friend about his/her issues with their significant other- distance yourself, so you can understand your partner. Ask open-ended questions, recap what you’ve heard, be curious and don’t problem solve or offer your opinion. The aim is to seek to understand.
To be fair, the practice of this exercise works best when both partners equally take turns in being the Initiator and Inquirer.
I invite you to share the above communication strategies with your partner to improve your communication in your relationship.
Improving communication is the first, positive step towards bettering your relationships. Along with the above tools and exercises, I can help you learn how to communicate more openly with your partner, so you can learn to communicate your perspective and needs, respectfully. I can help you learn to create awareness and identify obstacles to communication and how to overcome them. I can help you identify core issues, which can make small issues become bigger. I can help teach you the tools to manage conflict better and to resolve it.
I offer consultations in English, Hindi, Urdu and Sindhi.