Effective communication is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. The importance of feeling seen, heard, and understood (even in times of disagreement) is not only a human need, but the essence of emotional intimacy. Here are a few tips to improve communication with your partner.
Tip #1 Listen Attentively
Create a safe space.
In order to be vulnerable, we need to feel safe. Listening attentively and respectfully when our partner is sharing their thoughts and feelings is one way can foster safety our relationships.
Put down your phone, close your laptop, stop doing the dishes – whatever it is – and give your partner your full attention. We are experts in multitasking. While this helps us to get through our ever-growing to do list, it conveys to our partners, “you are not worthy of my full attention.” Creating a distraction-free environment for vulnerable conversations is key.
As your partner shares, observe their voice tone and body language, and practice empathy. Ask yourself, “What is this like for my partner?” and “How would I feel if I were in their shoes?”
Take note of your thoughts and reactions (as they are valuable too), and save them for later. Healthy relationships respect the time and space for all parties to share uninterrupted. Also, try to maintain neutral or compassionate expressions as you’re listening. This allows your partner to voice their experience without feeling judged.
Tip #2 Validate
With or without agreeing, the purpose of this tip is to validate your partner’s viewpoint as true for them. Our thoughts and feelings are shaped by our unique combination of experiences and perceptions of them. So even though we may be physically present for the same event, the way it affects your partner could be completely different from the way it affects you. To be seen, heard, and understood by our loved ones brings us closer together. We can convey this by simply taking the time to reflect and validate each other’s perspectives.
Try phrases like, “That sounds like it was really hurtful to you” or “I can see how that would be frustrating.”
Tip #3 Reflect & Check
Clarify Before Responding.
Many people miss this crucial step. If we immediately respond to the way we interpret our partner’s perspective (without clarifying) we run the risk of misunderstanding, and responding to an inaccurate point. This not only perpetuates frustration, but takes away from that need of feeling understood. Make sure you’re not wasting energy in reacting or defending yourself from a point that isn’t what your partner is trying to communicate.
Instead, after they’ve finished speaking, summarize what you heard and ask your partner if that’s true for them. If the answer is yes, then it is time to respond. If the answer is no (or a “not quite”), ask for clarification.
Try saying, “I want to understand what you’re saying and how you’re feeling. It sounds like you’re feeling ____ because _____. Is that true?”
With accurate understanding, we have the information to choose our responses accordingly and avoid unnecessary escalations.
Give these tips a try and feel free to share if you find them helpful!