Good communication is an important element of healthy and fulfilling relationships. Couple relationships have many different aspects. For example:
- companionship - sharing experiences, interests and concerns, showing affection and appreciation
- intimacy - being able to be close to each other, to comfort and be comforted, and to be open and honest with each other
- organising a shared home and a shared life and making decisions about issues such as money
- working together as parents in caring for children.
Open and honest communication is key to all these aspects of relationships.
Communication is complicated
It is best to be clear about what you want to communicate so that it can be received and understood by your partner. Double checking your understanding of what your partner is saying can be useful. Misunderstandings can easily occur and can lead to hurt, anger or confusion. The good news is that with a little persistence, these misunderstandings can be corrected.
Communication is more than just talking
We give a great deal of information without using words, by our body posture, by our tone of voice, and by the expression on our face. These non-verbal means of communicating can tell the other person how we feel about them. If our feelings don't fit with the words, it tends to be the non-verbal messages that get heard and believed. Try saying "I love you" to your partner in a flat, bored tone of voice and see what reaction you get!
To encourage more open communication:
- set aside time for both of you to talk without interruption from other people or distractions like tv, phones or computer games
- talk about what is happening and how it affects you
- in a respectful way, try to tell your partner what you are feeling and thinking, even if it might upset him or her
- accept responsibility for your own feelings
- change can be painful and scary – it’s a good idea to let your partner know that you understand this and that it’s the same for you
- listen to your partner - put aside your own thoughts for the time being – and try to understand his or her intentions, needs and wants
- state what you want and need
What makes a good listener?
A good listener is someone who:
- keeps comfortable eye contact (where culturally appropriate)
- lets the other person speak without interruption
- has an open, non-defensive body position – a relaxed posture
- avoids distracting gestures, such as fidgeting with a pen, glancing at papers, tapping feet or fingers
- mutes phones and other communication devices to ensure that they are really listening
- is genuinely interested
Open and clear communication skills can be developed, but some people find it hard to talk and may need time and encouragement to express their views. However, they may be good listeners or they may be people whose actions speak louder than their words.
How Relationships Australia can help you
If you find that there are aspects of communication in your relationship that you cannot improve yourselves then consider having a talk with a relationship counsellor or attending a Relationships Skills course.
It makes sense to take action early and spend time talking to someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.