After all, you know each other so well you should practically be able to connect telepathically, right? Sadly, this is not the case for me, and neither I nor my boyfriend have developed any psychic powers where communication is concerned. We still have our ups and downs, despite the fact we’ve been together for years, which got me wondering about how we can communicate more efficiently.
To get some insight I turned to Alisa Bowman, the author of Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters, and creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com. She shared some of the most common communication mistakes we make in relationships and had some tips on how best to avoid them.
Why good communication matters
After hitting rock bottom and coming dangerously close to asking for a divorce, Bowman realized she needed to make a change in how she communicated with her husband. While I’m not about to kick my boyfriend to the curb, I do know we can always improve on how we communicate. After all, a healthy relationship depends on being able to tell your partner how you feel in a way that doesn’t involve sarcasm or yelling, and ideally doesn’t require sign language, diagrams or charades. Whether you’re discussing sex, finances, chores or future plans, if you want to get anywhere (and not have one person storm out or end up in tears) you have to practice good communication.
Watch your step – Communication traps to avoid
Expecting your spouse to read your mind
You really can’t assume that your spouse knows how you feel or what you want, Bowman explains. “You might notice the dishes in the sink or remember that the kids haven’t done their homework yet, but he might not. When in doubt, say it out loud.”
Raising your voice in an effort to be heard
When we’re not getting the response we want, our natural reaction is to say the same thing more loudly, Bowman says. We’ve all done it. I know I have and trust me when I tell you it does not have the desired effect of making the person you are yelling at see things your way. They just get mad and turn up the volume on the basketball game.
Fixating on your feelings
You want your spouse to know how you feel, but going on and on about how angry or sad or resentful you are is a trigger for your spouse to tune out, Bowman explains. As a general rule she suggests mentioning only one feeling, one or two times per argument.
This is an area where I have a real problem. I think my first words when I learned to talk were probably a sarcastic comment of some kind. Rolling your eyes, sighing loudly, and making cold, sarcastic remarks turns your spouse off, Bowman explains, pulling you apart and creating a negative atmosphere in your relationship.
Talking too much
Much like shouting, talking too much is often a failed attempt to get heard. Yet when you go on and on, you again risk your partner tuning you out and not getting heard at all. Less is more when it comes to getting your point across.
How to do it better – Become a super communicator
Getting better at communicating with your partner takes work, but the results are worth the effort. Bowman is living proof of how communicating better can save your marriage. Be the change you want to see in your relationship, she says. “If you shift your communication style, he will shift his, too.” She provides a few more tips below.
- Lower your voice: Speak slowly, softly and compassionately. You’ll make your point more quickly and easily.
- Less is more: Phrase requests for change in just three or four sentences, rather than getting on a soapbox and giving a lengthy speech.
- Practice makes perfect: Role play a situation and practice listening without interrupting. Make up situations or problems and see if you can ask for what you want in a clear, compassionate way.
- Be honest: Be brave enough to say how you really feel. This can go a long way to helping your spouse break free of a bad communication habit. If he’s always interrupting you, tell him in a gentle way that it upsets you.
- Don’t play the blame game: If the house is messy, blaming your partner won’t get it clean (trust me, I’ve tried). The most effective way to get your spouse to do something for you is to explain how the messy house affects both of you, rather than make him feel like the situation is all his fault.
Communicating more efficiently (and without the use of sarcasm or diagrams) doesn’t mean you need to brush up on your psychic powers or spend your vacation fund on couples’ therapy. Tokii offers some great tools for discovering how you each like to be heard with engaging online options like LoveGamesand the LoveZones Quiz. These interactive products help you and your partner better understand each other so you can stop yelling at each other through basketball games and start working together to communicate better.