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In a previous article, I discussed the role expectations play in a relationship, and how unacknowledged, un-communicated expectations are often the primary cause of resentment and upset. To clear those up and enjoy healthy and connected relationships, we have to become masters at communication.
Healthy Communication Heals
Relationships—romantic or otherwise—are messy. Two people with different backgrounds, preferences, etc. will not always see eye-to-eye, making misunderstandings and disappointments inevitable.
In today’s world, though, many people give up on relationships too quickly. The moment things get tricky, they bail. Or they simply resign themselves to living in an unhappy, conflict-laden life. The fact of the matter is this: any relationship can be improved if both parties are willing to work on their communication.
Healthy communication requires facing difficult subjects, asking questions, explaining intentions and expectations, sharing feelings, and taking time. It requires vulnerability, empathy, validation, presence, and personal responsibility—all things I’ve written about before on this blog. And while it’s impossible to make you a master of communication in a short blog post, the following tips can help.
Tips for Improving Communication in Relationships
1. Talk (or better yet—ask)
This seems like a no-brainer, but if communication in your relationship is poor because you don’t want to talk with each other, you have to get the wheels turning again before the other tips here will work. If asking your friend or partner about their day feels mundane, ask their opinion on something you know they’re passionate about. Ask about something you know they’ve been wrestling with or working on. Ask more personal, thoughtful questions to get past the small talk and into a shared interest.
2. Seek First to Understand
Remember that you never have the full story. Whether you’re in a heated argument or someone has simply asked for your advice, seek first to understand the situation before diving into accusations or solutions. Ask clarifying questions (“Are you upset because I didn’t call last night?”), check your assumptions (“I assumed you didn’t want to come—was I mistaken?”), and invite greater clarity (“Could you help me understand why you feel like I’m not listening?”). This is also a great time to remember the power of using “and” instead of “but,” and leading with “I” instead of “you.”
3. Be Clear (and Honest)
How comfortable are you with stating your opinion? How honest are you when someone asks how you’re feeling? Do you ask for what you want, or do you hope people will figure it out? Healthy relationships depend on the ability of both parties to comfortably share their thoughts, feelings, preferences, etc.
If you struggle with this, make a conscious effort to improve. Start with small steps. Find “safe areas” to practice in—relationships where you know the other person will be respectful—and gradually work up courage and confidence to speak your mind in any situation.
Not only will this improve satisfaction in your life, it will make things easier for those you interact with as well. When they trust that you’ll speak up when you have an opinion or need something, they’ll feel less like they have to read your mind, walk on eggshells etc. Win/win.
Got it? Try it.
Make communication a priority today. Whether at work, at home, or out with friends, pick one or more of the above tips and see if you can enhance or simplify a conversation.
Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis