Listen to Me!: How to Improve Communication Breakdowns

Healthy patterns of communication in a couple can be so nurturing and positive for the relationship. It promotes a healthier sense of being, connection, parenting, and caring. However, most couples also find this to be the hardest and most frustrating aspect of their relationship. Why is that? Don’t we all want to hear and understand our partner? Don’t we all want to be understood by our partners? There are often many reasons why communication becomes strained in relationships. I will briefly go over some of these reasons and give you 3 important ways to repair communication breakdowns.

The first relationship we experience in our life is often our parent’s/caregiver’s relationship. Think about how they communicated and not just arguments, but everyday engagements as well. Was it open or closed off? Were needs expressed or suppressed? Was there a tone of respect or disrespect? Often these first experiences lay down the foundation for what we believe is normal or what we may fight hard not to repeat. Now think about the fact that your partner also experienced his/her own early life impressions. These early impressions are often vastly different in each person. Each person comes into the relationship with different sets of expectations and styles of communicating. So is it a wonder that couples begin to experience frustrations at some point in communication styles? Being aware of the different experiences and styles you and your spouse have will help to bring about more compassion and understanding.

Healthy communication also becomes strained as a result of stressful life events, lack of time with your partner, repetitive arguments, breaks in trust, and many other reasons. These occurrences often leave partners feelings disconnected and angry. Communication becomes worse as a result and the relationship continues to suffer even more.

But there are many ways to get start improving your relationship and communication patterns. The following are 3 simple strategies I provide my clients for helping to improve communication with their partners:

1. Using I-statements

Couples often fall into the rut of using “you” statements because it feels like the norm and is easier to displace blame and responsibility. “You don’t listen!, You don’t care how I feel, You make me so mad”. These types of statements will often just put the partner in a position of trying to defend themselves since they feel attacked. They will then fight back with even more “you” statements. When you are able to replace your words with “I feel, I want, I need”, the focus then shifts from attacking and defending to understanding and expressing.

Notice your reaction in these different examples: “You don’t listen to me!”. What is the first reaction you have when someone you love says this to you? Most people would quickly attempt to defend themselves and say “Of course I do!”. You may even follow up with something like “You’re the one who doesn’t listen!”. You can imagine where a discussion would go from there. Now notice your reaction if your partner states “I feel hurt when I believe you are not listening to me”. Do you feel the need to defend yourself after this statement?

2. Use Feelings

Feelings are the basic emotions in all human beings. Whether we take the time to notice them or not, we experience a variety of feelings daily. We may feel happy, angry, sad, frustrated, surprised, embarrassed, and excited all within one day of our life. Taking the time to connect with your feelings, recognize them and state them to your partner can make a hugely positive impact. This takes practice and is often not something you have been taught to do, but expressing feelings and recognizing others’ feelings often creates more connection and acceptance. Make your relationship a “safe place” to express and receive feelings.

3. Practice Compassion

Many times your partner can easily be transformed into the “enemy” when you feel frustrated, misunderstood, and invalidated. You learn your significant others’ weaknesses and triggers like the back of your hand and unfortunately, use it against them at times when communication is at its worst. It’s a dangerous cycle and can lead to poor outcomes for the relationship. Yet, your partner is also your support, your rock, and the person who knows you best. Using compassion with your partner often increases feelings of safety, happiness, and reciprocity. Compassion helps move your partner from being an “enemy” in your mind to someone you support and love and receive the same from in return.

Every relationship needs a tune-up now and then to bring it back to a healthy flow of nurturing, communicating, giving and receiving. Life experiences and events can easily cause your relationship to get off track. The key is to be aware of this change and take active steps to improve it. Of course, sometimes there are much deeper issues at hand in the relationship which will take the involvement of a professional to assist with. Other times, however, you may just need some simple ways to get back to a place of warmth and connection. Either way, put in the time. It’s worth it!