If you’re reading this, you must have already heard that “communication is key.” It is a common suggestion for making a relationship work because it is crucial! Communicating about the good stuff is easy, but we tend to stop doing this as our relationship ages, and communicating about the bad stuff is hard and everyone avoids it! So what do we do about it?
COMMUNICATING THE GOOD
We’ll start with the easier one. In the beginning stages of a relationship, we have no issue with this one. We are constantly pointing out to each other what we love about them–some things we actually grow to resent about our partner. Think: “Oh my gosh, he’s so cuddly!” turns in to “OH MY GOSH he won’t give me my space!” I think a large piece of this that isn’t often associated with this topic is leaving space for independent time away from your partner. When we are able to pursue our independent passions, we become more confident, our partner is able to appreciate what makes us us, and this helps to contribute to compliments! It is very easy to fall into the trap of codependence and finding happiness only in your partner’s happiness, but I challenge you to continue (or restart) to leave time for yourself and the things you like to do that you loved before your partner came in to your life. I think this helps to make communicating the good happen more naturally. If this task seems too overwhelming, start by looking out for things your appreciate in your partner, and be vocal to them about it.
COMMUNICATING THE UGLY
I’m going to start this topic with something seemingly unrelated, so be warned!
Let me tell you about one of my bigger pet-peeves, then I’ll connect it to relationship advice, I promise!
Imagine you’re driving on a multi-lane highway. You see a car in the next lane start to slow down and speed up. You wonder, are they trying to come over to your lane? This continues for a bit. Eventually you decide to slow down and leave more room in front of you, and what-do-you-know, they decide to come over. If you’re like me, you might think, “If you’d used your blinker I would have known you wanted to come over and let you in ages ago! Do you expect me to read your mind?” If the other car doesn’t communicate to me that they want to change lanes by utilizing their blinker, how am I supposed to know?
You might see where I’m going with this. Many times I have one member of a couple come in to session very frustrated with something. For example, a wife is frustrated that her husband of ten years never helps with laundry. I ask, have you ever asked for help with the laundry? She answers, no, I want him to want to do it without me nagging him! For ten years she continues to wait for him to make the first move, without giving him warning of what she wants. I ask clients to consider: what do you want, what are you doing to get what you want, and is it working? This is a reality therapy principle, but it is very applicable to situations such as these where people are hoping their partner can read their mind. This client had been waiting years for something to change without doing anything that would cause change. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just communicate what you’re feeling? Who knows if her husband would then help with the laundry, but at least she would know that he knew it bothered her.
When you decide to communicate something that is bothering you with your partner, remember you must try your best not to come off as aggressive/judgmental, as their first response will be to go on the defense, put up their walls, and then aren’t able to hear you.
So try this formula:
When _____ happens, I feel ______. It would help if you _________.
For my aforementioned client, it might look like:
When the laundry piles up, I feel overwhelmed and like everyone is waiting on me to do it. It would help if you could help with the laundry when you notice it hasn’t been done.
Notice the difference between a more aggressive way of saying this:
You never help around the house. I am a maid around here, and I already have so much going on! Why can’t you ever do the laundry? You’re so selfish!
The second version went to extremes (“never”), was judgmental (“You’re so selfish”), and didn’t communicate how she was feeling or a plan of how to help. The husband is likely to be very guarded and respond in a similar manner–aggressive.
-Compliment your partner on the things you love about them. You can’t compliment too much!
-Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Let them know what is bothering you, how it makes you feel, and how they can help.
I hope this is helpful! If you feel like you need a bit more professional help communicating with your partner, reach out to a therapist. You’re investing in your relationship and your communication skills!
Your listening ear,