Improving Communication in a Relationship

The key to any successful relationship is a foundation of trust. To build trust, you and your partner have to be willing to communicate, to talk through your problems and to express your interests without having to be defensive or hostile.

Here are some ideas to consider when you next speak to your significant other.

1. Men and women have different styles of thinking and acting. Gender stereotypes are never entirely accurate, but for the most part, there are patterns that highlight the differences between how men and women process things. Men, for example, tend to be more linear with their thoughts and are better on focusing at one task at a time, whereas women are usually better at multitasking and expressing themselves emotionally. In either case, what you and your partner can do is find a way to adapt to each other's mode of expression.

2. Not every short answer is a hostile one. For some people, they're being efficient when they give a simple answer to a loaded or complex question, even if it's just "How are you feeling?" But others might see it as being hostile or trying to shut down a dialogue. Before you jump to conclusions, get a sense of how your partner speaks and what answers are the most accurate between the two of you. Maybe a short answer can say more than a long response about feelings ever will.

3. Find a balance between calm and emotional expression. Some people are tight-lipped about their feelings and some are emotional at the drop of a hat. When it comes to expressing yourself in a relationship, the ideal is to balance your calm judgment with speaking openly about your feelings. Anyone who gets teary-eyed or angry quickly will be harder to reason with, while being too quiet or unemotional can make establishing trust more difficult.

4. Listen and think before speaking. Instead of trying to think up your answers while the other person is talking, why not sit and listen to everything they have to say first? You don't always need to have the last word in a conversation. Let your partner know that you're fully receiving all they have to say, even if it upsets you.

5. Allow for pauses in the conversation. We rarely consider letting a conversation pause for a moment, but it can be a good way to show that you're listening and considering what your partner says. You can also use the pauses to evaluate your response and your own emotions, making your expression much more genuine.

6. Be ready to offer validation and empathy. Don't be afraid to drop in the occasional affirmation about your partner's feelings. Acknowledge what they've said and use it to build on your own response. Be willing to recognize that they might have a good point and that you don't always know what's best. Even if an argument or discussion comes down in your favor, be ready to support how your partner feels and give them a way to feel like their contribution matters.

Image by Roxanna Salceda on Flickr

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