Communication Essentials: Building Stronger Connections in Your Relationship

1. Introduction

Do you ever wish you and your partner were more in sync? Whether you’re newly dating or dusting off the old vows, good communication is the foundation of any relationship. You may have heard that it’s not what you say but how you say it. What we say can become part of an easily forgettable conversation, but how we say it often has a lasting effect on our relationships. Communication reflects our sense of consideration for others. It’s about recognizing the emotions and feelings behind words and facial expressions. Rather than just hearing, communication is about perceiving and understanding other people. Effective communicators accept rather than judge and extend themselves to help others. They listen without interrupting, advise without sounding judgmental, and observe without being condescending. In communicating, we serve others selflessly, without making the other person feel guilty while putting ourselves in their position, without imposing solutions.

2. The Importance of Communication in Relationships

The key to successful communication is realizing that it is a two-way street. Engaging in the practice of listening is just as important as being able to share your own thoughts. Your partner deserves to be heard and so do you. Start off the right way and don’t hold back. Express yourself to your partner verbally and nonverbally. It will also show who’s willing to put forth an effort and who isn’t. If your partner is willing to talk to you, you have a chance. If they’re not, you might not be communicating, but at least you’re learning more.

Communication is the lifeblood of a relationship. It’s what helps us form a connection with our partner. Without it, a relationship can’t survive in a healthy and supportive manner. By making communication a daily habit, you’ll be amazed at how much closer it brings you to your partner. Don’t hold off on something that can be so easily implemented. Prioritizing the communication in your relationship will allow you both to live more rewarding lives.

3. Understanding Communication Styles

When members of a couple experience differences in communication, they are often experiencing differences related to specific issues. Perceiving differences as relationship challenges is one way that individuals can approach communication differences in ways that foster growth and development in terms of their partnership. In a roomful of people, it is likely that most communication styles have been used. Although a person’s range of style may include all five, most people have one primary style of conversation that they use in communication. Common styles include the following stereotypes: Director, or “Let’s get it done”; Expresser, or “Let’s talk about it”; Thinker, or “Let’s think it through”; Harmonizer, or “Let’s all get along”; and Synthesizer, or “Let’s set some goals.”

A key component of effective communication in relationships is understanding and adapting to different styles of communication. While no two people communicate in the exact same way, there are five distinct styles of communication that help us understand different communication patterns and how to act and react when it comes to conversations. Although we can often adapt and adopt other communication styles as needed, our primary method serves as the underlying framework of what makes us most comfortable. Ideally, we learn when and why to use, or not use, specific methods. This process of shift according to communication context is called “style switching.”

3.1. Different Types of Communication Styles

Rudolph F. Verderber, in his book “Communicate,” has speculated that while no two goals are exactly alike, we do display communication behaviors that are similar to those that we share with a specific group of people who are pursuing similar goals. Given that men and women share different sets of communication and relationship goals with their same-sex as well as cross-sex friends, it can be suggested that male-male, female-female, and female-male communication behaviors will also differ. This raises the possibility that men and women might also have differing communication styles. Furthermore, if men and women do have different communication styles, those differences might also be evident in male-male, female-female, and female-male communication interactions with their partners.

This section is designed to provide a few practical insights into the communication process. It is hoped that with a better understanding of effective communication, you will not only learn how to communicate better yourself but also learn to understand why your partner is communicating in a particular manner. This increased understanding will then help reduce frustration and tension in the relationship, while generating a greater sense of empathy and trust between you both.

4. Active Listening and Empathy

Hearing is simply that – picking up sound waves. Listening, however, is an activity that implies more than hearing the sounds. Listening means interpreting, understanding and evaluating the words the ears gather, and this activity requires work. Listening to someone often means more than simply trying to understand the surface meaning of words. In effective problem solving, we should not consider the parties’ positions, often stated as needs, desires, and wants. More important, we should also consider the parties’ underlying interests in the positions, which are often more closely related to persons’ needs.

One of the most important skills a couple can have is active listening. And no orientation to the subject of active listening would be complete without a discussion of empathy and sympathy. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes to understand what it is like to experience and feel the emotions, problems, and issues of another person. Empathy means identifying with the other person so closely that almost anything that person feels, you can also feel. Sympathy, on the other hand, is a very important but different concept. While empathy is the ability to experience the other person’s frame of reference, sympathy is feeling sorry, pity, or compassion for another person or people.

4.1. Benefits of Active Listening

A common misconception is that listening is a passive activity when, in fact, it is hard work. Too many times, despite our hopes that when our partner is through speaking we will be able to respond, as we wait, we instead spend the time formulating our own thoughts and counterarguments. So, when our partner is through speaking, we respond with what we have formulated, not what was said. Such assumptions about our partners make them feel unheard but strongly subjected to our truths. When we communicate, we are sharing ideas and feelings with our partner, not merely presenting our individual argument. Active listening allows individuals to share an understanding regarding personal emotional experiences.

In today’s fast-paced world, few people have the skill or take the time to really listen to others. Active listening involves receiving and sending messages. It requires you to hear and understand what the other person is saying and feeling. When you pay close attention to the other person and show with your words and body that you are listening carefully, it shows concern for the speaker. Recognition of another human being is an essential part of respect. Also, when you practice active listening, you listen to what is said and respond directly to the other person’s needs and requests.

5. Nonverbal Communication

Some of the ways we can practice nonverbal sensitivity are to be aware of each other’s facial expressions, body movements, and eye contact. We should practice using voice quality to convey our feelings instead of relying simply on words. Think about how you sound when you say, “I love you.” Would saying “I love you” in a harsh tone of voice have the same meaning? Probably not. We cannot always read the higher level of meaning contained in the nonverbal codes. When our partners are not sensitive to how we feel, we become more motivated to break through the communication obstacles that are preventing the other from understanding us by greater verbal elaboration.

It’s been said that actions speak louder than words. In communication, the “loud” actions are our nonverbal signals. The way we touch, look, listen, move, sit, stand, speak, and nod says a lot more about our feelings than the words we use. In fact, some researchers believe that words carry only 20% of the message and the rest of the message is carried nonverbally. So it is important in any close relationship to be aware of and use nonverbal communication skills as much as possible. When words and nonverbal communication don’t match, the nonverbal message is believed first and foremost by the listener. Being sensitive to each other’s feelings, the environment, and body language is the underlying concept of our next building block of communication – nonverbal communication.

5.1. Interpreting Body Language

When you interpret body language and voice signals correctly, you have fathomed the foundation of all strong connections. A softened voice, eye contact, facial expressions, or physical touch: these communication essentials stimulate a connection. They prove it was time worth spent, that someone cares about you — or at least that we all are part of the human race. Furthermore, body language and the spirit of confidence are the strongest disarmers and therefore belong together. Knowing these principles of communication also pays off. It assures that the arms of your interlocutor are open, and we can be assured that our conversation is on the same wavelength.

When you communicate, your body does most of the talking: your posture, gestures, and facial expressions can exude confidence, hostility, indifference, anger, or joy. When you don’t verbalize your feelings or have trouble expressing them, your body language can communicate another set of emotions. Sometimes an abrupt or indirect discussion isn’t necessary. We say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but so are a person’s body signals. Did you ever notice that if people do not like each other, it is written all over their resting facial expressions? Many times you are already programmed to receive and detect these visual impressions.

6. Conflict Resolution Strategies

If you both become very angry, you will get nowhere. Once you cool off, plan to have a discussion. Once both of you are worn out, sit down and get to the real issues, tackle the quiet storm. It’s an eye of the hurricane scenario. This is where you get the success of conflict resolution. Use silence as a cooling-healing circuit. While you may think nothing is being said, really a lot is. If you’re fully engaged in a fight and you stop to use the silent method, it’s only stating that you need time to ease yourself. Subconsciously, you and your loved one are expressing that he learns you need to get things sorted out and understand the chaotic mirth of arguing about anything negative, so something as simple as silence will help resolve conflict.

Conflict resolution is controversial at best. Most people don’t cope well when they encounter conflict. I’m here to tell you it’s okay to have conflict. It’s a chance to see your relationship grow. Don’t expect fire out of your own mouth, and don’t expect fire to come out of your partner’s. Realize your partner is trying to work things out themselves and is capable of expressing emotions unlike you. Listen to your partner. Be understanding and accepting. Have an open mind. Plan how to cool the flames of conflict. It’s a time out.