Communication is at the heart of all relationships. Many people coming to us say communication breakdown is one of the main reasons they've decided to seek support. But most people can improve their communication, if they want to. Like any new skill it just takes a bit of practice!
What is communication?
Communication is the way we connect to other people. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It is in fact a very complicated process which most of us never deliberately learn - we just do it. The way we communicate or connect with others can have a major impact on our lives and that's why we think it is so important in all relationships.
What is good communication?
Good communication can be described as a dance. There's a place for you to dance together, the music sets the scene, you both sense the rhythm, take it in turns to 'do your thing', follow or take the lead, you do it together, it gives you both pleasure and has a purpose. If you are reasonably good at it, it should be a satisfying experience.
Maybe we wouldn't all feel the same about this dance. Perhaps the setting is wrong, it's not your kind of music, you've never really liked making an exhibition of yourself dancing, etc. However, if you can hang on to the idea of making the time, creating the right environment, sharing the experience, balancing the inputs, and moving together whilst doing different things, this could be a useful way of looking at the way you and your partner communicate.
How do I know if I'm a good communicator?
You could ask a friend to tell you how they find conversations with you.
Are you a good listener? Do you wait until the other person has finished what they've got to say before you chime in? Do you acknowledge what they have said?
Do you find it important to make time to have a conversation?
Do you make sure you understand fully what has been said? Do you check what you think you've heard with the person speaking?
Does your own view of the subject colour what has been said to you?
Do you relay your story in an interesting and informative way, sharing your feelings about the topic, or do you just give the bare facts?
Can you stay with what the other person is saying to you without interrupting, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable?
How can I improve communication with my partner?
Set aside time to talk when you will not be interrupted. Take it in turns to have air time - some people find setting a timer for five minutes, one speaking while the other listens, then reversing the process, can create a space for each to talk without interruption.
Tell your partner how you felt, feel or will be feeling about something without blaming them. This can be tricky but it is a very useful way of owning your feelings.
Plan to go together somewhere that provides an environment you both find relaxing e.g. a walk in the park, a drink at a pub or a coffee when you're shopping, etc.
Remember that communication isn't all verbal. Consider what your body language communicates to your partner about what you're both saying.
Have a think about what barriers to listening you might have fallen into the habit of using like; preparing a defence; stonewalling, inner ‘eye rolling’, assuming it’s the same story that can’t be resolved etc
Don't be surprised if there isn't an improvement straight away - you wouldn't expect to dance the salsa after only one attempt would you?
Different people often have different needs around communication. Whilst one of a couple might really enjoy a deep and meaningful conversations the other one doesn’t. Try to agree a time to make communication happen; like most things in a relationship the good stuff doesn’t just happen.
It might be useful to think in terms of transmitter and receiver when you’re wondering what’s going on with your communication. Is the person transmitting information in a way that the receiver can use it; and is the receiver responding in a way that the transmitter finds useful. There are lots of assumptions that can get in the way of communication and it's useful to check these out.
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