How To Communicate In A Relationship, According To Experts

How To Communicate In A Relationship, According To Experts

Have you thought about what it would be like to express yourself clearly, undertaking healthful conflicts that nurture, and grow an atmosphere steeped in respect and openness? This kind of interaction would be the center of a secure and thriving relationship. Many positive aspects of communication are often neglected when it comes to relationship conflicts. This isn’t merely a defensive strategy against threats but a significant factor that enhances the core of our connections. Learning how to respond to your partner constructively in times of conflict has been shown to improve couples’ functioning. A study conducted in 2010 found that when both partners communicated constructively, elevated feelings of closeness, value, relationship stability, and satisfaction were achieved.

It was found that partners in Asian societies, during problem-solving tend to be more indirect, with listeners expected to deduce unexpressed meanings through non-verbal cues. Members from Asian cultures often avoid expressing distress, fearing it might burden others or lead to conflicts. This creates more of a need to learn communication strategies in relationships.

In essence, understanding communication strategies in relationships, especially in the context of conflicts and accommodation, is a practical necessity for individuals aiming to foster satisfaction, stability, and a deeper connection in their romantic endeavors. It bridges the gap between theoretical insights and real-world application, offering a roadmap for effective communication that is sensitive to cultural nuances and the unique challenges posed by conflicts in relationships.

Signs You Might Be Facing Difficulty in Communication

There are 4 communication patterns, the Four Horsemen in a relationship, indicate an unsatisfying relationship because they contribute to a toxic and unhealthy dynamic. Instead of fostering connection, they create barriers that impede emotional intimacy and problem-solving. These include:

  • Criticism: It involves attacking someone’s personality or character with accusations and blame. Examples include statements like, “You never think of anyone else,” or “How can you be so selfish?” Constant criticism erodes the foundation of a relationship. It creates an environment where one partner feels constantly attacked and blamed, leading to feelings of anger and insecurity.
  • Contempt: It is expressed through insults, deliberate name-calling, sarcasm, eye-rolling, etc. It conveys a lack of respect for a partner. It creates hatred and anger, making it difficult for couples to express themselves or resolve conflicts peacefully.
  • Defensiveness: It involves feeling defeated in response to criticism and contempt, and not willing to take responsibility for one’s actions. Defensiveness puts up a wall, making it hard to talk and solve issues. 
  • Stonewalling: Stonewalling is when one person just checks out, not wanting to talk or connect at all. This may involve shutting down completely or avoiding conversation. It blurs communication and leaves one partner feeling neglected and rejected. Lack of engagement can lead to emotional disconnect and isolation.

More factors influence a couple during communication, particularly in moments of conflict leading to unhealthy communication patterns. These include

  • Harsh Startup: A harsh startup is characterized by the initial tone and demeanor adopted by one or both individuals in a conversation, particularly in the context of discussing sensitive topics or conflicts. It manifests as a negative and accusatory approach, where the communication begins with criticism, sarcasm, or a hostile attitude. Starting a conversation on a harsh note is like planting seeds of negativity, making it tough for things to get better.
  • Flooding: Flooding is when one person feels this emotional wave, like a sudden storm, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. It’s like getting hit by a strong emotional wave, and it can shake things up in a relationship.  The more frequently these floodings happen, the more challenging it becomes to maintain a healthy emotional connection.
  • Impact on Physiology: Physiological changes during tense discussions. Elevated heart rate, hormonal shifts, and increased blood pressure indicate extreme emotional distress, known as flooding. Frequent episodes of flooding not only suggest emotional strain but also hinder productive discussions. These physiological responses make it challenging to process information, diminishing the likelihood of resolving conflicts and negatively impacting the overall relationship health.
  • Failed Repair Attempts: This sign involves the effectiveness of repair attempts in resolving relationship conflicts. Repair attempts are efforts made by a couple to de-escalate tension during a sensitive discussion, preventing emotional flooding. In unhappy marriages dominated by criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, repair attempts often go unnoticed, especially during heightened emotional states. A feedback loop develops, where contempt and defensiveness hinder the acknowledgment and response from repairing attempts, escalating the negativity. The failure of repair attempts serves as a crucial marker for predicting an unhappy future and increases the accuracy of divorce predictions.

In a satisfying relationship, partners should feel heard, respected, and supported. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling erode these foundational elements, making it difficult for a couple to navigate challenges together. When this is coupled with harsh startups, escalating tensions, physiological distress from flooding, and failed repair attempts, it creates a detrimental feedback loop. These patterns collectively obstruct mutual understanding, personal growth, and the essential elements for a fulfilling relationship. nurture a fulfilling connection. Addressing and replacing these destructive communication patterns with healthier alternatives is crucial for building and sustaining a satisfying relationship.

How Can You Communicate in a Relationship?

Using Soft Startups: A soft startup in communication involves addressing sensitive issues or conflicts with a gentle and non-critical approach. It contrasts with a harsh startup, which often leads to negative conflict patterns. Softening the startup is crucial for resolving conflicts, as discussions tend to end the way they begin.

Here’s how you can use a soft start-up:

  • Complaining without Blaming:  Instead of accusing your partner, express your concerns about a specific situation without assigning fault. For example, instead of saying, “You don’t listen to me at all! It’s always about what you want.” try saying, “I’ve noticed that our conversations sometimes leave me feeling unheard. Can we talk about how we communicate?”
  • Using “I” Statements: You can frame your feelings and needs with statements that begin with “I” to avoid sounding accusatory and to emphasize personal experiences. A harsh start-up might sound like “You’re always ignoring my opinions.” A soft start-up can be “I feel a bit overlooked at times during our discussions. Can we find a way to ensure both our perspectives are considered?”
  • Describing Events without Judgment:  You can stick to objective observations rather than adding a negative interpretation, allowing for a more neutral and constructive conversation.
  • Being Clear and Polite: You can communicate your needs or requests using courteous language to maintain a respectful tone.
  • Appreciate your Partner: Acknowledge positive aspects or past behaviours to create a more positive atmosphere for the discussion. Instead of saying, “You’re so lazy. You never contribute.” try saying,  “I remember when we used to collaborate well on chores. I appreciated that dynamic. Can we explore ways to bring some of that back?”

These soft startup communication strategies help maintain a constructive dialogue and foster a healthier approach to conflict resolution in relationships. Here are some more ways in which you can deal with each of the 4 Horsemen of communication in a relationship:

  • Dealing with Criticism: In the realm of relationship counselling, transitioning from criticism to a soft start-up becomes pivotal. It entails shifting the focus from attacking a person’s character to expressing feelings and needs. Instead of resorting to accusatory ‘you’ statements, the approach involves employing ‘I’ statements to communicate emotions and articulate positive needs. This shift not only fosters healthier communication but also forms a fundamental aspect of relationship counselling, guiding couples toward more constructive and understanding interactions.
  • Dealing with Contempt: Confronting contempt in a relationship requires self-awareness to avoid passive-aggressive behaviours. Maintaining respectful communication, even when angry, prevents conflicts from escalating. Letting go of unhelpful narratives and holding one’s partner in warm regard during discord dismantles contempt’s breeding ground. Lastly, expressing gratitude for positive actions fosters mutual appreciation and understanding, creating a more compassionate relationship dynamic.
  • Dealing with Defensiveness: To counter defensiveness in communication, adopting active listening is imperative; ensuring accurate comprehension before crafting a response enhances mutual understanding. Furthermore, expressing validation for the partner’s perspective strengthens the foundation of effective dialogue. You can take responsibility for the issues raised as this would also promote an environment conducive to resolution.
  • Dealing with Stonewalling: If you tend to stonewall, practicing self-soothe is the best way to deal with stonewalling. Before you self-soothe, express the need for a break in conflict by saying, “Let’s revisit this when we’re calmer.” Assure your partner that the conversation will resume when both are ready. You can do something that will calm you when you are taking a time out like listening to music or going for a walk.

Following these steps helps create an environment where you and your partner can tackle problems without resorting to personal attacks, mockery, defensiveness, or disengaging. This fosters a relationship characterized by mutual understanding, support, respect, kindness, and improved intimacy and conflict resolution as a couple.

If you still hit a roadblock in communication, you and your partner can team up with a relationship counsellor, your relationship ally. In this joint adventure, the focus is on your relationship, dealing with personal concerns that might affect your relationship.

While there might be a few one-on-one sessions initially, the important work would begin in the joint couple sessions where you and your partner are required to work together with the couples counsellor. 

They will not only help you communicate better with each other but also help you understand each other better and navigate those tricky issues. It’s not just counselling; it’s a shared experience that strengthens your bond, making your relationship resilient. So, if you’re feeling a bit stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted relationship therapist!