How to improve communication skills with your partner
I remember as a child, my mum would tell us kids, “You were born with 2 ears and one mouth so use them in that same proportion!”
At the time, I thought that was a clever way of telling us kids to keep quiet!
Now as an adult and relationship counsellor, I still think it’s a clever way of telling people to keep quiet!
Because the best relationship communication technique of all is to use your two ears – to listen.
And I mean REALLY listen. Listen to hear what the other person is trying to tell you. Listen to learn about what is important to them, or to what is bothering them. Listen instead of jumping to conclusions and then jumping in with an answer. In fact, stop jumping altogether. Listen instead.
Most of us don’t listen all that well.
I will teach you a way to improve your communication skills.
If your partner says something to you about what you did, you will usually hear it as a criticism and then immediately either (1) get defensive or (2) explain or (3) justify or (4) complain or (5) attack back.
And you are so busy getting defensive and angry on the inside, you stop listening.
But if your partner says I’m hungry, do you get mad?
What if you’re not hungry? Is it OK for your partner to be hungry when you’re not? Being hungry is a feeling – a physical sensation – that is telling you something. It would be crazy for you to argue with your partner that they’re not hungry after they’ve told you they are, right?
Well, it’s the same with emotions. Your partner may be upset, or feeling frustrated or a low priority or embarrassed about something you’ve done. And if that’s what they’re telling you then that’s what they want you to know. It’s crazy for you to tell them they’re NOT feeling it, or to reason with them that they should feel something different!
How do I communicate better?
What should your response be now you’ve HEARD what your partner feels?
Answer: let your partner know you have heard how they feel!
Is there anything hard about that?
Well, yes there is – because it’s not how we usually communicate. We aren’t good at just quietly letting someone know we have heard them. We are usually too busy explaining or complaining or getting defensive or angry.
And of course THAT will shut down communication faster than you can say Jack Robinson!
So what can you say instead?
Here are some ideas – try them and notice the difference in how the communication goes:
- I didn’t know you felt like that. Are there any more feelings you had at the time?
- Yes, I can understand why you would have felt that.
- Those are pretty awful and painful feelings to have. Have you still got them?
Take note what you are NOT doing when you answer like this:
- You are NOT explaining or complaining.
- You are NOT getting defensive or angry.
- You are NOT suggesting your partner is stupid or wrong to have the feeling.
Here is what you ARE doing when you answer like this:
- You ARE indicating that you are listening (with your two ears).
- You ARE allowing your partner to feel they are being HEARD (and this reduces resentment).
- You ARE acknowledging your partner’s feelings (giving them permission to have them).
- You ARE letting your partner feel safe to communicate with you (and when you feel safe, you come closer).