“Communication, communication, communication!” This is probably the most commonly used word in a relationship practitioner’s vocabulary. Yet, although we, as humans, are hard-wired to socially interact, the concept of talking to each other intimately can seem somewhat ... alien.
Why is this? Well it’s scary, for one thing. Sharing our innermost thoughts can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, and many of us are simply not used to opening up in the first place. Throw in a rough patch, a period of change, a heated argument, or a feeling of distance from your partner, and communication can shut down completely.
The good news is, we can all practice being better communicators in relationships. The following five habits will help you feel closer and more connected, manage difficult conversations and build your unique couple bond.
- Make time to talk.This seems so simple, but many couples don’t practice the art of daily conversation. It doesn’t mean sitting down and having a long, intense daily discussion about where your relationship is going, either. I simply believe that, by creating a bit of time and space to talk and listen to each other, to share your hopes and feelings about what’s going on for you both – or even to talk about the latest TV show you’re watching – that your connection will deepen and you’ll be better-placed to deal with whatever life throws at you.
- Listen carefully.Conversations are a two-way street and in order to build a feeling of connection between you, it’s important that each of you feels heard. To do that, you both need to concentrate on the words that are spoken and how they are spoken; avoid interruptions or talking over the other person; and ask open-ended questions to demonstrate that you are listening and want to learn more. If you struggle with this, take it in turns – set an egg timer, and each take it in turns to speak and listen.
- Use “I feel” statements.Good communication is about owning your stuff. “I feel” statements encourage you to take responsibility for your feelings and avoid accusations and blame that can cause an argument to erupt. So instead of saying “You always..”, or “why didn’t you….?” start with “I feel” – in doing so you’ll come at a conversation from a place of vulnerability, which is known to foster more honest conversations and greater connection among couples.
- Focus on one point. Expressing a message clearly enough that it can be heard and understood is a crucial first step in avoiding miscommunication in relationships – and this is especially relevant during heated discussions. Don’t bring up a whole laundry list of irritations that will only make your partner switch off. Instead, focus on one point that you want to get across, and what, specifically, you might need from your partner at this moment.
- Hug it out.Research proves the importance of physical intimacy in the communication process. Physical closeness expresses that you’re there for each other, even during times of conflict. A carefully-timed hug during or at the end of an argument, can help to rebuild trust, reduce stress, dissolve anger, and together move on more positively.
Paired and Relate, UK’s leading relationship charity, are teaming up to help couples care for their relationship – click here to find out more.
Anjula is Vice President for the UK's leading relationship charity Relate. She is also a Fellow for the National Counselling Society and has worked in the field of relationship counselling for over 20 years.
During this time, she has worked with a broad range of clients in a diversity of settings from the city and financial world to universities, and authored books including: 'How to Do Relationships'.
She has worked on numerous hit television shows, ranging from: on-screen expert on Big Brother, to resident psychologist on This Morning, to most recently, presenting the cutting-edge relationship series, 'Sex Tape'.