Communicating in a healthy way should be on the top of all couples’ Life Goals List. Couples who place a premium on keeping their relationship strong learn how to communicate in a healthy way with each other. Researchers at the Pew Research Center found that the happiest couples hold meaningful conversations an average of five hours per week. (This is outside of the normal chit-chat.) What are some of these couples’ secrets to communicating in a positive, meaningful way?
Respect each other
Always speak to your partner as if they were your best friend. Because guess what? They are! Your words, body language and tone of voice are indications of how you view your spouse. Mutually-respecting couples, even when arguing, do not berate or show contempt for each other. Instead, they exchange differing points of view using words that help communicate their opinions and viewpoints without denigrating their spouse. They might also diffuse the argument with humor and may even concede a couple of points to their spouse when they realize they may just be right, after all!
Be mindful of the setting before you begin a conversation
You don’t want to open up an important discussion when your husband is heading out the door for work, or you need to get to an appointment. Healthy communicators schedule a time for these sorts of conversations so that 1) both of you can prepare for the discussion and 2) you can devote the time and energy that is needed to thoroughly unpack the issue and ensure that both of you get a chance to be heard.
Texting or emailing to express anger is not the best way to communicate
Many couples resort to these methods, however, because digging into a sensitive issue, one that may be lead to conflict, is easier to do when you aren’t face to face. But hiding behind a screen can be perceived as passive-aggressive, and it certainly doesn’t allow for all the emotional subtleties that an in-person discussion can convey. Even though it may seem easier to communicate by email or text, save those methods for the little “extras” that can lift your partner’s heart during the day: the “thinking of you” or “Missing you” texts. For conversations that need full-on attention, make sure you are physically present with your spouse so you can encourage a natural flow of feelings. Talking face to face is far more intimate than messaging, and will ultimately bring you closer together as you work to resolve the issue at hand.
Use healthy communication tools for all interactions
Don’t save the healthy communication skills for large topics, like budget, vacation, in-law issues or the children’s education. Strive to always practice good communication techniques with each exchange. That way you’ll be ready to reach for these tools when you need to attack the “big topics”; you will have practiced so much that healthy communication becomes your second nature!
Recognize the difference between unhealthy and healthy communication
Unhealthy communicators use shouting, screaming, fist-pounding or “silent” methods to get their point across. Couples who fight this way can do great physical and mental harm to themselves, with blood pressure shooting up, chest tightening and pain, and hyperventilation. Those who practice the “silent treatment” of communicating internalize their anger which leads to the body tensing up, resulting in back pain, aching jaws and headaches. Fortunately, recognizing these unhealthy communication methods is a first step in learning how to better communicate using tools that will help you and your spouse open up the dialogue in ways that won’t hurt your bodies and relationship. When you sense things are heating up, take a “time out” until you can cool down and reset your mind. Step away from each other, and move into a space that is quiet and neutral. Once you have both regained a sense of calm, come back together, staying mindful of the necessity of remaining open to listening to what the other has to say.
Be a good listener
Healthy communicators know that communication is made of equal parts talking and listening. Show your spouse that you are actively listening to what they are sharing (and not just thinking about what you will say once they are done) by maintaining eye contact, nodding, touching their arm or another neutral part of their body. These signs show you are engaged in the conversation. When it is your turn to speak, begin by reiterating your understanding of what has been said. “It sounds like there is some frustration with how we are managing the household budget,” is an example of active listening. If you need further clarification on any point, you can ask for it by stating “I’m not clear on what exactly you mean by that. Can you expand on this so I can understand it better?”. This is better than “You are always so obtuse!”
Say what you need
Healthy communicators don’t leave anything to chance; they state their needs. Your spouse is not a mind-reader (much as we’d like this to be true.) When your spouse asks you how they can help you, it is not healthy to say “Oh, I’m all right.” when really, you need help to, say, clean up after dinner. So many of us practice this technique, and then fume silently when we see our spouse sit down in front of the TV while we are left to do the dishes, all because we didn’t say what we needed. “I could use a hand with the washing up; would you rather wash or dry the dishes?” is a great way to state your needs and give your spouse a choice in the task. Remember to thank them for helping; it will help ensure that they step up to the plate the next time without you having to ask.
This goes for non-task related needs as well. Healthy communicators will say what they need for emotional support; they do not wait for their partner to guess. “I am feeling really down right now and could use a hug,” is a simple way to ask for some supportive contact after you’ve had a bad day.
Learning healthy communication techniques is a guaranteed way to strengthen your relationship and keep it on a loving path. You will find that using these techniques in all aspects of your life, whether at work or at home, will reap big rewards in terms of your overall emotional and physical well-being.