Today’s topic is one I am really excited and passionate about: intentional relationships, and how to improve communication with your significant other.
Let me first disclaim that I am not an expert on relationships. In fact, I’ve only been in one serious relationship! (But technically doesn’t that make me an expert because I’ve never had a breakup?…Just kidding).
I’ve been dating my wonderful boyfriend for two years. Despite unbiasedly having a very solid relationship, I must admit that we do sometimes experience disagreements and conflict. I know, it’s shocking.
Although we allegedly aren’t perfect, one thing I think we are pretty good at is communication.
I 100% believe that communication is the most important thing in a relationship. Communication is like the hub of a wheel – Every other aspect of a relationship (plans, activities, decisions, finances, intimacy, etc.) stems from communication. If the communication breaks, the wheel goes flat and the relationship gets stalled. In order to keep the relationship rolling solidly, you’ve gotta keep communication strong and at the center.
Here are my tips for how to improve communication with your significant other:
Speak with kindness
You know that saying “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? Kindness should always, always be the foundation of communicating with your partner. It’s important to speak both with kindness, and speak kindly to your partner. If you and your partner approach conversations with kindness, conflicts and issues can be resolved much faster without extra hurt getting in the way.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to speak more kindly to your partner than anyone else in your life. I know this can be hard because your partner is probably also the person you’re most comfortable with, so it’s easy to slip up and say something rash in the heat of the moment.
Speaking with kindness requires very intentional communication about what you say and how you say it. Using unkind language like name-calling, cursing, or cutting words breeds resentment and disrespect, which is harmful to your relationship.
All of that said, please don’t mistake kindness for not speaking up when something is wrong. You absolutely need to communicate when that is the case! And you should never feel like you have to tiptoe around conversation with your partner. Kindness just means communicating in ways that are gentle and respectful.
Talk about everything
There should no topic that’s off-limits with your partner. If you’re in a relationship, you’re in one because you both accept each other for who you are – so you should be able to openly communicate with each other. If there’s something you feel like you can’t talk about with your partner, that’s a for sure sign that it’s something you need to talk about with them.
I know this can be easier said than done. Bringing up uncomfortable topics is just that – uncomfortable. But if you don’t bring up the “tough stuff,” it will fester.
Also – No one is a mind reader! If you don’t say what you’re thinking, your partner isn’t going to magically know that you’re holding back. Communicating is the only way to ensure you’re on the same page, and to understand the other’s feelings, wants, and needs.
Work through things ASAP
If there is an issue – don’t let it linger! The longer you let issues sit, the more they build up in your head. Set aside time as soon as possible after an issues arises to sit down and discuss it. Of course there are exceptions to this – if you’re out with friends, for example, and an issue comes up, chuck it into the back of your mind until you get home and address it then. But generally, bringing up an issue sooner is how you can improve communication with your significant other.
Over-communicate about things that give you issues
If there’s a certain topic or issue that causes a sore spot in your relationship, don’t avoid it – talk about it more. The more you talk about it, the more comfortable it will be become to talk about, and the easier it will be to find a solution.
The root of conflict in my relationship stems from plan-related issues probably…90% of the time. Since that can be a sore spot, we makes sure to talk about plans consistently. We have a Sunday night check-in to share what plans we each have during the week, which prevents any surprises about why the other person may not be available on a given day. This has helped us reduce plan-related conflict drastically!
Make time for talking
If you don’t make time for communicating, you’re not going to communicate. It’s key for how to improve communication with your significant other!
It’s so easy to come home from work, eat a quick dinner, cuddle up to watch a show, and go to bed. These are all good things! But it’s also important to carve out time for talking. This can be as simple as making sure you eat dinner together (not in front of the TV), or setting aside an hour to talk after work or before bedtime.
My boyfriend and I make sure we feel like we’ve had enough talking time before we move on other activities. This means not pressing play on whatever we’re binge watching until we feel that we’ve had enough eye-to-eye time. We make conversation a priority – other activities can be moved or postponed for the sake of communicating, even if it’s just to discuss how our days went, or the latest Taylor Swift news. 🙂
Check in often
Like any ongoing thing in life, you have to check in on your relationship to make sure things are still going well. Just like you wouldn’t leave a turkey cooking in the oven without checking on it, you can’t let your relationship go unattended without it turning into a burnt mess.
Checking in regularly gives you and your partner a chance to be honest about anything that’s going on – whether good or bad. At least once a week ask your partner something like, “How are you feeling about us?” This allows you to nip any problems in the bud early on, and opens the door for expressing appreciation regularly.
I’m a big fan of Jeremy and Audrey Roloff. a reality TV couple who do a lot of work in intentional relationships. They’ve created something called Navigator’s Council, which is a journal that provides 6 questions they ask each other on a weekly basis.
The questions are as follows:
1. What brought you joy this week?2. What was something that was hard this week?3. What’s one specific thing I can do for you this week?4. How can I pray for you this week?5. Is there anything that’s gone unsaid, convictions, confessions, or unresolved hurt?6. What’s a dream, desire or thought that’s been on the forefront of your mind this week?
I love the idea of adapting these questions to fit your own relationship, and using them as a base for your weekly check-in until you get in the groove of asking these questions regularly. (Or just going ahead and buying this journal).
Understand your partner’s communication style
It’s also important to understand your partners communication style, which might be very different from yours. You and your partner need to respect each other’s communication styles, and learn how to work within them.
Your partner might need a few minutes to cool off before they talk if they are the type to get heated. Or they might have trouble expressing their feelings and need to be gently coaxed into it. My boyfriend has sweetly learned to ignore the first five times I say “nothing” when he asks if something is wrong, because it takes me a moment to finally admit what’s going on in my head. (I talk a big game about communicating, but it’s hard in the moment!)
Know that you can’t change your partner’s communication style, but you can provide an environment that supports and embraces it.
Seek to understand
My wise best friend shared a saying with me that I keep in the back of my mind during all tough conversations with my boyfriend:
“Seek to understand, and then to be understood.”
This means that during a disagreement your priority should be trying to understand where the other person is coming from, before you focus on sharing your perspective.
If you and your partner enter a conversation just trying to make the other person understand your own viewpoint, you’re not going to succeed at coming to a resolution because you won’t see beyond your own opinion. But if you both have the goal of understanding the other person’s perspective, you are bound to achieve a place of understanding and resolution much sooner.
I can definitely improve upon this because my emotions overtake my entire brain when I’m upset. But taking a moment to think,“Where is he coming from on this?” has helped in so many conflicts and exposed my own selfish flaws.
Following these guidelines with intentionality has allowed for my boyfriend and to have have a relatively conflict-free relationship. While we disagree and argue, we rarely, if ever, fight. We talk through conflicts instead. (Or cry-talk, in my case). I’m so grateful for a boyfriend who communicates with me so kindly and intentionally, and how our open communication has allowed our relationship to blossom.
Do you have any tips for how to improve communication with your significant other? I’d love to hear them!