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  • Healthy Relationships

    The age-old adage in real estate goes that the three most important factors in determining the value of a house are location, location, and… location. Similarly, it can be said that in healthy relationships, whether romantic or otherwise, the three most essential elements are communication, communication, and communication. Communication is key, especially in romantic partnerships. And while most people can recognize that communicating with your partner is important, actual, effective communication can be a struggle for many couples.

    In order to appreciate the importance of productively communicating in relationships,  we should at least understand why effectively communicating in relationships is so important. Meaningfully communicating with your partner allows you to confront issues within your relationship and work out disagreements. And productive communication doesn’t just help you manage disputes, it can also help you develop a deeper sense of empathy with your partner. On the flip side, poor communication can create tension and distance in a relationship. A 2017 survey published in PLOS ONE identified “growing apart” and arguments as the two most common reasons for breakups. If not entirely resolved, these issues can be alleviated through proper communication. As such, it is vital to hone your communication skills to foster and enduring relationship.

    Active listening is a key component of productive communication. It involves paying attention to what your partner is saying, understanding their perspective, and demonstrating empathy. Active listening is more than just being quiet while your partner talks and appearing attentive. In fact, research from the Harvard Business Review has shown that effective listeners are those who demonstrate an understanding of their conversation partner’s emotions and ask thoughtful and insightful questions to better understand their partner’s assumptions. By honing your active listening skills and truly engaging with your partner, you can create a deeper and more meaningful connection, fostering a relationship built on mutual understanding and respect.

    Everyone has their own unique communication style, and there are four basic styles to consider. Some people may communicate passively, which means they avoid conflict and express their needs and feelings indirectly. This means that often they may have a harder time expressing their feelings and needs. It is also associated with visual cues such as avoiding eye contact.

    Others may communicate aggressively, which means they express their needs and feelings in a forceful and confrontational manner. They tend to use a demanding voice, commanding and dominating the conversation.

    Another communicative style is passive-aggressive. Individuals with this communication style often exhibit a built-up resentment that comes across in a passive manner externally. You should be wary of using this communication style, as passive aggression may appear cordial on the surface, and may lead you or your partner to believe that meaningful communication is taking place when in reality there are unresolved tensions.

    The fourth (and often considered the most effective) communication style is assertive. Assertive people are able to advocate for their own personal needs and interests, while also considering the feelings of their partner. It’s important to recognize these different styles exist, so you work towards a healthy communication style that suits your relationship.

    Now that we’ve formed a basis for how communication can look, and why it’s important, let’s look into some ways you can improve communication in your relationship along with some common pitfalls.

    One mistake people sometimes make in their relationships is getting into unnecessary conflicts with their partners. While any relationship will have legitimate conflicts that need to be resolved, sometimes partners will pick fights and instigate arguments out of nothing. These unnecessary conflicts can happen for any number of reasons, such as boredom or seeking attention. Regardless of the cause, you should recognize the times when you or your partner instigate unwarranted conflicts and try your best to disengage, as these fights can often lead to resentment.

    Another communication pitfall you may have heard of before is using accusatory “you” statements. Statements like, “You are so annoying” and “You need to do this right now” can create a sense of defensiveness in people, and may lead to fights. Instead, you should try to use more neutral and constructive statements that focus on the issue or behavior rather than the person. For example, instead of saying “You never listen to me,” try saying “I’m not feeling heard.” This method of communicating allows you to express your feelings and concerns without attacking the other person. It can lead to a more productive conversation where both parties feel heard and respected. By avoiding accusatory language and focusing on constructive communication, you can avoid unnecessary conflicts and build healthier relationships with those around you.

    Another thing you should look out for in communications with your partner is emotional invalidation. Emotional invalidation occurs when someone discounts the feelings that their partner is experiencing. This can be as simple as telling your partner “It’s not so bad” when they are upset. Emotional invalidation can sow feelings of confusion and distrust, and as such it should be avoided. Saying statements like “I understand that you are upset about this and it’s okay to feel that way” can help your partner feel heard and supported. Validating your partner’s emotions doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or solve the problem immediately, but it shows that you are willing to listen and empathize with their feelings. This can help build trust and strengthen your relationship.

    Relationships are difficult and at times may require a lot of work to maintain. Often, improved communication can help strengthen relationships, making them more resilient. While the tips included in this article may be helpful, they are by no means a comprehensive list of all communication problems or ways to solve them. If you or your partner are experiencing communication problems, it may be time to seek out couples therapy.

    AJB