You’ve probably heard people say before that no is perfect; that no matter how compatible two individuals are, behind every lasting couple is a large amount of hard work. Possibly the most important kind of ‘hard work’ that gets done in good relationships is quality communication.
Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once remarked that “much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid”. Similarly, a 2013 study examining which interpersonal skills were most predictive of romantic relationship success found communication to be the most significant predictor examined; that is, communication skills were more important in relationship maintenance than were conflict resolution skills, knowledge of one’s partner, life skills, self management, sex and romance, and stress management.
In some ways, we’re more connected now than ever before . The ubiquity of social media, email, and text messaging has created a world in which our loved ones are constantly reachable at the press of a button; as a result, many people would likely argue that communication isn’t an issue in their relationships. However, some argue that quality is more important than quantity in determining relationship success: if we can’t communicate about the tough stuff and the heavy stuff, we may as well not be communicating at all. We live in an interesting time, romantically speaking: divorce rates are high, people are getting married at a later age, and social media and the internet have made meeting potential partners almost as easy as going grocery shopping. The lucky among us will find people with whom they want to spend their time long-term, but even perfect couples can run into stumbling blocks when it comes to communication.
So what is a well-meaning couple to do if quality communication seems awkward, embarrassing, daunting, or simply impossible? Luckily, psychologists have been studying this very subject for many years, and a few significant findings exist that just might be of use in your love life:
Stay positive: A 2006 study found that the more positively spouses reacted to each other’s good news, the better their relationships tended to fare over time. This advice is fairly intuitive: if you act positive and happy most of the time (and especially in relation to the events transpiring in your partner’s life), your relationship is more likely to have an overall positive tone. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to act like Pollyanna when you feel like crying (honesty, after all, is another important facet of partner communication); it simply means that erring on the side of positivity is generally a healthy relationship communication tactic.
Listen first, talk second: When your partner is telling a story, expressing a point of view, or explaining something to you, try not to be forming your next rebuttal while they’re speaking. Listening with your complete attention is one of the most important relationship communication skills – after all, it’s pretty easy to tell when somebody is waiting for their turn to talk rather than listening. If you love your partner, you should value what they have to say equally or more than you value what you have to say.
Argue smarter: Contrary to popular opinion, it’s okay to fight or argue in your relationship – in fact, conflict can actually be a good sign that you’re addressing issues rather than burying them. When you find yourself in a dispute, though, there are a few ways to ensure the conversation goes as productively as possible. A good way to convey that you understand what your partner is trying to communicate is to repeat back what they’ve said to you, but paraphrased. For example, if your girlfriend has just finished a five-minute rant about your laziness around the house, try replying something like “I get that you feel like I haven’t been pulling my weight”. You don’t have to agree with her, but simply acknowledging that you understand her point of view can go a long way.
Make time for each other: We all lead busy lives, and especially if you and your partner have children or have different schedules, quality time together can often fall by the wayside. Notice when this happens, and communicate to each other that you want to plan to spend an evening doing something fun together or just enjoying each other’s company. Remembering why you fell for your partner in the first place (and telling them that you remember) can be powerful.
Share your feelings: This one might sound obvious, but it may not be for some people: it’s important to tell your partner what you’re feeling, both when those feelings are positive and when they’re tougher to express. Tell your partner when you’re having a good time spending the day with them; equally, tell your partner when you’re feeling down. Your romantic partner should be the person who is most privy to your feelings, mainly because they are likely going to be the person most able to augment the good emotions and alleviate the pain of the bad. Of course, you don’t have to tell them literally everything that passes through your head, but sharing how you feel can go a long way towards building a sense of connection and safety.
No buts allowed: Try to avoid the word ‘but’ when arguing or apologizing – as in “I’m sorry, but…”. This tiny word is a powerful weapon that, whether used intentionally or unintentionally, does wonders to undermine the level of respect you’re conveying towards your partner.
Whether you’re married, dating, or single, it’s important to gain a quality understanding of relationship communication skills and to continue building on your existing skills over time. Love isn’t always easy, but most of us would likely agree: the work is worth it.