I’ve been with my boyfriend now for just over two and a half years and during that time, I like to think that we’ve discovered some of the secrets to developing healthy communication in a relationship.
A lot of our techniques were developed through trial and error, the rest were inspired by other couples we knew, or from things we’d watched or read. All of them have had a positive impact on our relationship in one way or another, and all of them are a crucial part of what keeps our love and friendship strong and healthy.
1) Listen to each other’s perspectives
I’ve found that it’s so easy when you’re having a disagreement with your partner over something, to forget to ask for their perspective.
Let me give you an example. My boyfriend and I often disagree over punctuality. For me, being punctual is a must, whereas Sasha takes a more relaxed approach to punctuality. For a while, his occasional lateness would irritate me and I’d go off on one, explaining that it was rude to be late, or annoying having to wait for him.
A conversation with my sister, however, reminded me how important it was to actually find out someone else’s perspective on a situation. So, next time we disagreed over punctuality, I asked Sasha why he was often late. He explained, to my surprise, that his dad was very punctual and often stressed out the family whenever they had to go somewhere, nagging them to hurry up or they would be late. For him, occasionally being late was preferable to always worrying about arriving exactly on time.
Hearing his perspective went a long way to helping me drop my irritation and actually understand why arriving on time wasn’t such a priority for him. Since that talk, we’ve managed to find a more comfortable middle ground between our two approaches to punctuality.
2) Be prepared to compromise
My parents, in their long and happy marriage, agreed that being able to compromise was one of the main ways they managed to keep healthy communication going in their relationship.
A big compromise for them, was how they spent their money. My dad preferred to save money to buy more expensive things like a new television while my mum preferred to buy smaller things more regularly like new furniture for the house. Unable to convince the other of their approach to spending, they developed a system where they each had a certain amount of “pocket money” from their shared account to do what they wanted with.
And so their disagreements over spending ended and their communication got a whole lot healthier.
3) Always be honest
I think honesty has to be among the most important things in a relationship. Since we first got together, Sasha and I have always made an effort to be completely honest with each other. This means telling each other if we are ever unhappy, or if we want something to change in our relationship, or if something has been niggling at us.
I remember when we first got together, I sometimes found it hard to be honest when I was feeling annoyed about something. It would be the classic situation of him asking if something was wrong and me replying sulkily that I was fine.
After a few times of this happening, he told me that he’d prefer me to just be honest with him, otherwise how was me meant to know what he’d done to upset me? From that point, I began making a real effort to just say what was on my mind and it saved a lot of confusion, sulking, and miscommunication. We were well on our way to better communication from then on.
4) Always speak with love and respect
I don’t think I ever heard my parents shout at each other, or swear, or call each other names. The same is true in my relationship now. In the heat of a disagreement I’m sure it can be all to easy for harsh words to slip out but it’s important to remember that this is a disagreement with the person you love most in the world. It’s bad enough that you’ve fallen out over something, don’t make it worse by unnecessary put downs.
5) Discuss the future…hypothetically
It’s only been in the last few months that Sasha and I have realised how important it is to discuss big decisions for the future. Before we decided to come to Hong Kong, we had lots of conversations about the move, but we’ve realised now that we left a lot unsaid. Certain concerns or reservations didn’t make it to light until it was too late to do anything about it.
We’ve remedied this by agreeing to have “hypothetical conversations about the future”. This means laying all our cards on the table but without any expectations of the other person. Now, we’re hoping that any big decisions we make together, will have been made with all the information in place.
6) Know when to listen and when to act
Richard Templar, in his brilliant book The Rules of Love, argues that it’s important in a relationship to know when to listen and when to act. He explains that some scenarios, such as calling your partner to say you’re stuck in a traffic jam and they need to put the dinner on, require action. Others, like venting about an argument with a colleague, simply require a listening ear and the assertion that they’re not in the wrong.
It can be so easy to try and come to the rescue and fix your partner’s problems but sometimes all they want is to just have a moan. Templar explains that if you’re in doubt of what a situation requires, the best is to just ask.
7) Avoid global comments
What’s a global comment? Let me give you a few examples: “You always arrive late…you never spend any time with me anymore…you do this all the time”. We’ve definitely fallen into the trap of using global comments in our relationship. The problem with them is that they’re confrontational. They lack any sort of balance or measurement and so are likely to offend your partner.
We’ve found that global comments often slip into disagreements unintentionally, so we’ve started lightly pointing them out when they do and the situation nearly always improves.
– Tiger Lily –