Communication in relationships takes conscious effort on our part, especially if we’ve had unhealthy relationships in the past. Being vulnerable with our partners can be extremely uncomfortable, yet a necessary part of having a long lasting relationship. Below are four communication mistakes you can avoid to foster a healthy and emotionally safe relationship.
1) Making assumptions.
This includes assuming what your partner is thinking, feeling, and what they will, or won’t do. Assumptions are always dangerous because they’re not based in reality. Luckily (or unluckily) our brains are incredible storytellers, which is where most of our assumptions stem from.
For example, say my partner comes home from work irritated and stressed. I could make the assumption that it was something I did that upset them. Then, I might act distant from them, try to make up for this imaginary bad thing I did, and/or become irritated with them. What we want to do instead, is notice when the assumption arises and share this with our partner. So, I notice my partner is stressed when they come home from work and I might ask how their day was, what’s upsetting them, or just share “I’m telling myself the story that you’re upset with me. Is that what’s happening?” This can quickly diffuse, and prevent, conflict from arising.
It’s also important to be mindful of not interrupting or talking over someone. This behavior can make our partners feel unheard and invalidated, which is not conducive to a positive relationship. We want to be conscious when we’re speaking and making sure that it’s an even balance between both of us. It might be helpful to set up a sign or gesture for when your partner is speaking that indicates you’d like to add something, such as raising your hand. Listening and asking thoughtful questions communicates a level of respect for our partners that can’t be achieved through anything else. Active listening also helps us understand our partner better by allowing them to explain how they feel and think about certain situations.
2) Dishonest communication.
This refers to anything and everything that’s communicated in our relationships. If your partner notices you’re upset and asks if everything’s okay, be honest. Tell them that you’re upset and why you feel that way (if you know why). It’s not our partner’s job to read our minds, investigate our behaviors, or guess our needs and expectations.
The more open, honest, and clear your communication is in your relationship, the more you’ll trust yourself and your partner. You’ll also prevent conflict and the buildup of resentment from occurring. Not speaking up for ourselves can create walls with our partner. We can’t expect our partners to know what we’re thinking if we don’t share it with them. This includes expressing our needs, wants, and values; as well as setting boundaries when necessary. It can be intimidating or uncomfortable to have these conversations at first, but the more we practice, the easier and more comfortable it will become.
Communication in relationships should be a two way street; both partners should feel safe expressing their needs and thoughts openly without worrying about upsetting the other person. Being assertive means speaking up for ourselves in an emotionally safe, direct, and respectful way.
3) Trying to be right.
This looks like coming into conversations with the intention of winning and/or proving that you’re right. When we do this, we have our defenses up as if we’re headed into battle. Any time that we’re defensive in conversations or conflict with our partner, nothing productive can happen. Instead of feeling like we’re at war with our partner, we want to feel like we’re on the same team. You’ll want to feel like you’re facing a problem with your partner, instead of working against each other. This will take practicing, but it’s worth it.
When we don’t try to understand our partners perspective, we’re not adding to the connection. This is different from making assumptions and trying to win because it refers to actually hearing what your partner has to say without judgement or criticism. We want to make sure we’re really listening and not just waiting for our turn to speak.
4) Not really hearing your partner.
Active listening can be challenging in relationships, especially if we’ve experienced past trauma or you grew up in a family that talked over each other to be heard. Listening and hearing your partner requires you to be fully present (body and mind) without multitasking or being distracted. You’ll have to set aside your need to be right, any other defenses, and your ego in order to truly hear your partner.
If you find yourself rehearsing your response, mind reading, or making assumptions, bring yourself back to the conversation. Give your partner the safe space to openly share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions without making it about you. You don’t need to agree with them, or fully understand them, just allow them to be heard respectfully. Then, you can share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the matter at hand.
The first step to improving communication in your relationships is to be aware of the barriers getting in the way (defensiveness, trying to win or be right, dishonesty, mixed messages, etc.). When you’re aware of a barrier in the moment take a pause and make the conscious effort to do something differently. This won’t ever be perfect, but avoiding these communication mistakes more often than not will likely save your relationship in the long run.
The importance of effective communication in relationships can’t be overstated. It’s the foundation of any relationship and it’s a skill that takes time to master. Developing healthy communication habits will create a safe space for both partners to be vulnerable, express their needs, and most importantly, listen to each other without judgment or criticism. If you find yourself making any of the above mistakes, be gentle with yourself and try to actively work towards better communication. Remember that relationships are fluid and take time to build, so keep at it for the best results!
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