“Communication is the most important part of a relationship!”
“You can’t be successful without good communication!”
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard this before. It’s the mantra of basically every relationship advice column, book, and seminar. Communication is the most important thing, we all know. But what IS communication? Is any communication good for a relationship, or are there good and bad kinds? These are the sort of questions I always find myself asking when faced with a general directive to “communicate more!”
In my life, I’ve found good communication does not thrive with rules such as setting up the “perfect” environment, or never speaking of negative things. Trying to have a relationship where you can never vent or discuss your negative feelings is one in which you cannot be genuine and will only lead to anger and dissatisfaction in the end.
So, what does make for good communication? I have found there are 3 key elements to good, productive communication within my relationship.
1. Allowing each other to speak openly and honestly without immediate judgement and defensiveness.
I touched on this in my 4 Questions For Every Relationship post, and want to elaborate a little bit here.
Oftentimes, you may need to talk through an issue, but you know that bringing it up might hurt your significant other’s (SO) feelings. There are several things you could do in this scenario… you could bottle up the feelings and wait for them to go away, though they may not actually disappear and only get worse. You could have an angry outburst at some point along the way, the culmination of a dozen small issues that have become one big issue. Or, you could bring up the issue in a calm and matter-of-fact way, and open the discussion to work through it together.
Relationtip: “Our ultimate goal is to make each other happy, fulfilled, and give each other the best and easiest life we can. Being able to talk through the smaller as well as larger issues must be a part of that.”
A vital element of opening such a discussion is knowing your SO will not react in immediate defense to you stating something that is upsetting or bothering you. My husband and I have had direct discussions about this, and allow each other to express our thoughts and feelings without fear of a defensive outburst from the other.
This is a key component of communication. If we can’t talk honestly with each other about things that are hurtful or bothersome, they will never get resolved and ultimately it will lead to much larger issues down the road. If our ultimate goal is to make each other happy and fulfilled, and give each other the best and easiest life we can, then being able to talk through the smaller as well as larger issues must be a part of that.
2. Taking care to not speak in argumentative or insulting tones, and holding off on speaking until emotions have calmed down.
Both of us take care to manage our tone and not come across as unnecessarily antagonistic. This is not always easy. In fact, this may be one of the most difficult parts, particularly because a tone may be unintentional. I struggle with this a lot – my tone coming across much more aggressively or harshly than I intend.
When tensions are high, our natural inclination is to fully express our anger and frustration and make the other person feel bad. My goal is to have the most stress-free and happy relationship I can, so I purpose to never intentionally make him feel bad, and he does the same for me. Our ultimate goal is always resolution. Not just surface resolution – in which we both gloss over in quick agreement in order to move on, but never sort out the mess underneath. No, we resolve to never take a previous argument into a new one, that every issue should be resolved at the time it happens.
(Note: there are some situations of deep hurt where making the other person feel bad cannot be avoided due to the harm they have caused, and I do not want to negate that. I am speaking in terms of everyday arguments and annoyances, not things like a breach of trust that simply talking through should lead to feelings of shame for the guilty partner.)
3. Allowing each other space to process.
This one was particularly difficult for me early in our relationship, before we’d really learned each other. I didn’t realize that sometimes he needs to step back to process an issue, and he didn’t realize that his stepping back felt like a rejection to me, so we’ve learned to communicate our needs better in that area. During an argument or misunderstanding, he assumed that his presence was making things worse, which was not the case. Sometimes, we need to talk things out right then and there, but other times it’s good to step back and ask if the issue is worth the fuss anyways.
If there is too much immediate anger, we will both step back and wait for things to cool down before continuing. The goal is never to argue, but to resolve, and throwing angry words back and forth has never led to a resolution.
Relationtip: “Sometimes, it’s good to step back and ask if the issue is worth the fuss…”
This type of give and take is not only during disagreements, but even when just one of us is working through something. My husband almost always prefers to mentally work through things in solitude, a quiet space. This is not always easy with our two small children, so he tells me when he needs some time and I’m happy to give it to him. Earlier in our relationship, I’d get so bothered when he’d just leave the room and it took a long while for us to really have the discussion that I need to know if he just needs some quiet time, because otherwise I was thinking he was upset with me and I didn’t know why.
Me, on the other hand, I like to talk things through. Not in a “let’s find a solution” sense, but just to work out my feelings and thoughts on something. Oftentimes, I just need a second ear to hear what I’m thinking and nod in agreement or let me know if I’m getting it twisted (which does certainly happen!)
These are our top 3 elements of quality communication with each other. The ultimate goal is always to come to a mutually satisfying resolution, and with being open, honest, and always seeking the best for the other person, we are able to do that.