Is your relationship struggling in this pandemic? You are certainly not alone. Conflict in and of itself is not unusual- anyone who has been in a relationship can confirm that relationships are full of tense moments.
Anyone in a relationship during this pandemic can confirm that tense moments are becoming harder to avoid, more difficult to manage, and usually end up escalating the conflict.
Co-habitating couples in particular are finding that they need more space and time away from each other than is physically possible during a pandemic.
Being around each other constantly can lead to some significant break downs in communication. If you are relating a little too hard to this situation, don't worry, we've got you!
In this post, we will cover:
Why the WAY we communicate matters more than what we actually say
10 tips to help you communicate more effectively with your partner
Let's get into it.
The Way We Communicate Matters
How we say something (or do something) is often more important than WHAT we say or do. The delivery is everything. This applies even outside romantic relationships!
Think about the last time you delivered or received feedback. In either situation, the way the information is communicated makes all the difference in how you feel afterwards. This is true even if you received feedback that was difficult to digest.
In relationships, our delivery can make or break communication. It can truly be the difference between the conflict leading to further chaos, or increased intimacy and connection.
Communicating effectively is a core relationship skill. Like any skill, if you are willing to put in the work, it will improve!
And we are here to help! Scroll through for 10 invaluable communication tips you can implement starting TODAY. You'll notice that many of these tips emphasize the manner of communication over the content of the communication itself- it's all about the delivery :)
1. Recognize Where You Tend To Go Wrong
Identifying our pitfalls for poor communication is an excellent starting point for improving communication! Here are a few common ones:
Passive aggressive behaviour is a way of expressing anger and frustration without actually talking about the issue head on. Over time, being passive aggressive can lead to greater resentment and dissatisfaction in relationships. And you can see why- no one is actually talking about the core issues, hence they never get resolved.
Common examples of passive aggressive behaviour include:
- Making indirect critical comments
- Using sarcasm to take small digs at each other
- Refusing to tell each other what is wrong
- The silent treatment
- Bringing up past mistakes
Sweeping issues under the rug worsens communication! Basically, neither party gets a real chance to deal with the core issues. Avoidance is the opposite of communication. Furthermore, when we avoid problems, they grow in magnitude, which makes overcoming avoidance and choosing to address the issue even more difficult.
2. Use 'I' Statements
Next time you are discussing something with your partner, try describing how you experienced their behaviour by using 'I' statements.
For example: "I felt frustrated when you didn't tell me you had a meeting during the kid's lunch because I didn't get a break all afternoon"
Rather than "You never tell me your schedule in advance and always leave me hanging".
'I' statements ensure you own your feelings and also communicate the how you are experiencing your partner's behaviour in a way that cannot be mistaken.
3. Make Physical Contact
Soften the intensity of the moment by reaching out with a respectful physical gesture (i.e. holding your partner's hand, or putting your arm around their shoulder).
Physical gestures help us overcome the feeling of being disconnected from each other. They also enhance safety and increase affection in a tense moment, allowing us to maintain perspective.
4. Validate Emotions
Our emotions are valid- even the ones we are uncomfortable with or feel guilty about causing in others. Letting your partner know that that you acknowledge their emotions can mitigate feelings of not being understood, recognized, or appreciated.
This is true even if we don't agree with our partner's take on the situation.
5. Recognize The Stressors Impacting Your Relationship
The external stressors affecting your relationship may be at an all-time high. It's more important than ever to talk about them and acknowledge the strain added pressures can bring to a relationship. Stress can undermine the healthiest of relationships!
For example, being under significant stress can make it more difficult to cut each other some slack for being irritable, or inconsistent. It is much difficult to make external attributions about our partners' behaviour when we are stressed out ourselves. The individual stressors may also be very different, leading to difficulties empathizing with each other.
Cut through the stress by allotting a bit of time each week to talk about each other's experiences in a non-accusatory manner.
6. Practice Pausing
Do you have a tendency to respond defensively? During high stress or conflict, our responses can become automatic. When we respond from this threatened, fight-or-flight state, we are more likely to say things we will later regret.
Practice pausing, taking a deep breath, checking in with yourself, and then responding. You can even tell your partner that you need a moment.
Taking a walk or going to a different part of the home are also ways to add pause and intention into our communication. This can allow for a fresh perspective and a break from the cycle of repetition.
7. Engage With Empathy And Think Well Of Each Other
Empathize with your partner's perspective by understanding their upbringing and how they have arrived at their perspective. Attribute positive intentions to their behaviour. When we are having trouble communicating, it is very easy to attribute negative intentions to our partner.
Thinking well of each other involves believing (and communicating) that you believe they mean well and are genuinely good at their core.
8. Consider Whether You Need To Be Right
Does your need to be right about the conflict outweigh what your relationship needs? When we let go of our attachment to being right, it opens us up to truly understanding our partner's perspective.
Sometimes, it's also necessary to just agree to disagree.
9. Lighten Things Up
Introduce some levity into your relationship. We all need breaks from high-intensity conversation. This is especially helpful if you feel stuck in a cycle of negativity. It's important not to use humour to trivialize your partner's concerns though!
10. Remember The Love
Finally, remember that you are two people who genuinely like/love/care for each other. Getting too absorbed in the conflict story can cause us to lose sight of the reasons we are with someone to begin with. Part of good communication is remembering the loving times and interactions you have shared over the years. Think of it as a well you draw from when times are tough.
Also, try and regularly identify (and say out loud) what you appreciate about your partner :) A little gratitude and appreciation can go a long way!
Until next time!