You’ve probably heard before that communication is a crucial aspect of fostering a healthy relationship. This is true for any kind of relationship but especially for close, intimate ones with a romantic partner. Communication is key, that’s true, but it’s important to focus on effective communication. Effective communication ensures both parties feel heard and understood by their partner at the same time they’re hearing and working to understand what their partner is telling them.
It’s through effective communication that both you and your partner can express your needs, feelings, and desires, and that conflicts and misunderstandings can be resolved. However, not all communication styles are equally effective, and it’s important to be aware of your own communication style in order to improve your relationships.
One of the most widely used frameworks for identifying communication styles is the “Four Horsemen” model, developed by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. This model identifies the four communication styles that have been found to be particularly damaging to relationships:
- When one partner makes a negative statement about the other’s character or personality, rather than focusing on a specific behavior or issue. For example, instead of saying “I’m upset that you didn’t call me when you said you would,” a partner might say, “You’re always so irresponsible.” This communication can lead to feelings of resentment and defensiveness in the other partner.
- When one partner expresses disgust or disrespect towards the other, through words or nonverbal cues such as eye-rolling or sarcasm. Contempt is particularly harmful because it not only attacks the other person’s character, but also suggests that the contemptuous partner sees their loved one as sub-par and below them.
- When one partner responds to criticism or complaints with counteraccusations or justifications. This type of communication is stems from feeling threatened and a need to protects ourselves.
- When one partner withdraws emotionally or physically from a conversation, refusing to engage or respond to their partner’s attempts at communication. This can make the other partner feel ignored and unimportant and can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection.
It’s important to note that all couples engage in these negative communication styles at some point in their relationship, and that occasional instances of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling do not necessarily mean that a relationship is doomed. However, when these patterns of communication become chronic, they can cause serious damage to a relationship.
New Communication Skills
To improve communication in a romantic relationship, individuals must learn and understand their own communication style and work on changing any negative patterns. This might involve learning new communication skills, such as active listening, which is when the listener is fully present, and focusing on understanding the speaker’s message, rather than just waiting for their turn to speak. It also includes verbal cues such as nodding and responding with short phrases like “I understand” or “I see”.
Communicating with “I” statements can be very helpful for getting your message across without making your partner feel attacked or in the wrong. An “I” statement is when you frame your statement in a way that focuses on your own feelings and needs, rather than placing blame on your partner. For example, instead of saying “You always make me feel ignored,” you might say “I feel ignored when you don’t return my calls.”
Keep in mind, your communication style can change over time and may depend on the specific context or situation. For example, you may communicate differently in a work setting than in a personal setting. It’s important to be aware of the style that you adopt in different situations, and to make sure that it aligns with the situation and the people you’re communicating with.
If you and your partner have tried all the above and are still struggling, it can be helpful to seek therapy or counseling to address other underlying issues that may be contributing to the negative communication patterns.
Reach Out for Help to Get Your Relationship on Track
Sometimes, we do all that we know how to do, and we still struggle in our relationship. There is no shame in reaching out for help. You deserve to feel that you are number one in your special person’s life. We all want that level of intimacy in our relationship. If you are located in northern Washington state, we are here for you and your partner. We want to help you make your love work.