There are so many relationships that could be much healthier and happier if partners learnt how to resolve their conflict and improve their communication.
As a therapist, I can tell you that no relationship can be healthy and develop throughout life without good communication. Typically, when we first date someone we are all ears and generous with our time listening, caring and being curious about our partner, and often they are the same with us. We admire our differences and relish our similarities. At this time, our partner is very interesting and rather fabulous. Over time we are much less generous, and those differences become “so irritating”.
Having a non-judgmental position
When communicating it is important not to judge what our partner says or how they say something as it implies we are correct and they have deviated from what is right or appropriate. When we judge others, we are placing ourselves in a superior position and saying “I know best” or “My idea is right”. This is never helpful and sets up a binary of win/lose or black and white thinking – leading you straight in the direction of conflict.
Don’t be threatened by a different view
No two partners have the same minds. You were always going to have to work through situations in life and relationship difficulties. Often when we don’t like what our partner says we can feel threatened and be triggered into survival mode, as if we were experiencing a physical threat. It is important to approach communication with a spirit of wanting to know what our partner thinks and reminding ourselves to stay open-minded.
Listen to your partner as you want to be listened to
A major spoiler of couple communication is when one or both partners are not listening. It can feel pretty maddening not to be listened to by someone you expect would want to listen to you. This can cause so many arguments and after many failed attempts partners may decide to no longer share things with their partner. I tell my client they must momentarily “drop” themselves, to listen with curiosity and to listen to their partner without an agenda.
Check your ego
Ego… this is at the centre of what causes communication to become so damaging to couple relationships. Our ego can protect us and can be a helpful early warning detector of a possible threat. The problem is that when we experience different viewpoints as a threat, we use defensive strategies to try to protect ourselves, such as blame, push back, justification, denial. They nearly always increase conflict and lead to communication breakdown.
Never expect your partner to listen to you when engaged with the TV or their iPhone. You need to request their attention first and make sure you have eye contact. If they have been pulled back to their device before you have finished, just stop speaking. Don’t compete with a device. This is not personal, and your partner is not meaning to be disrespectful. Devices have been programmed to absorb our attention. You need to gently teach your partner how you wish to communicate.
Learn to apologise
A crucial part of a healthy relationship is how partners repair the rupture following communication breakdown. We all need to reflect on our behaviour and apologise when we have overstepped the line of disrespect. We need to apologise if we have provoked our partner, been unkind, or gone a bit crazy during the conflict. However, do not apologise if you don’t mean it or if your partner is trying to force one out of you. Make sure never to say “I’m sorry but…” this is disguised blame and will probably cause another round of conflict. Your apology needs to be independent of whether they offer an apology to you. It is taking responsibility for yourself relationally.