Every couple faces adversity—whether its infidelity, jealousy, insecurity, abuse, a combination of the four, or something different entirely. In any given case, what’s most important is not the difficulty at hand, but how one addresses and solves that issue. I learned this firsthand in a particularly challenging relationship a few years ago. The two of us were like fire and ice—sure it’s cliché, but it couldn’t be truer, as we were complete and total opposites. Rarely did we share the same interests, opinions, tastes, likes, dislikes, or motivations. As you can imagine, this led to a lot of arguments that were seemingly insoluble: neither of us would budge, nor would we merely consider hearing the other person out. We were in serious need of effective communication, and the lack of it ultimately led to our relationship’s demise. While this was certainly unfortunate for this particular relationship, we both learned an important lesson—a lesson that has led to my adapting effective communication strategies, such as those recommended by Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist. Utilize her following 10 strategies to improve communication with your significant other and, in turn, your relationship in its entirety:
1) Use universal statements.
“Using phrases like, “you always,” or, “you never,” to your partner raises their guard and defenses because it focuses on what’s wrong with the other person,” explains Dr. Walfish. “Instead, use “I” statements that focus on how you feel without blaming or accusing your beloved partner.”
2) Practice empathy and understanding.
According to Dr. Walfish, oftentimes a partner will focus more so on the articulation of their feelings, when they should really be focusing on their partner’s feelings: “During intense disagreements, you often interrupt or think about your response while your partner is talking. Instead, listen intently without interrupting and try to understand and empathize with your partner’s feelings.”
3) Validate your partner’s feelings.
“Everyone is entitled to their own feelings, so do your best not to criticize, judge, belittle your partner, or minimize the importance of their feelings,” says Dr. Walfish. “When a person’s negative feelings are not validated, they will likely get more powerful, grow, and create a barrier in the relationship.”
4) Be courageously honest.
Dr. Walfish understands how difficult the truth can be, but this does not undermine its importance: “Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable, especially if you know your partner may get angry hearing it. Be brave! Honesty in a relationship is extremely important because it is the fundamental thing that makes a person feel safe. Even if you think truth will be hard for your partner to hear, they will appreciate it in the long run.”
5) Remain open-minded.
“Rigidity in your partner is a sign of trouble. Instead, be flexible,” says Dr. Walfish. “You may think your idea is best, but staying open to other’s opinions is an important ingredient in successful communication.”
6) Focus the topic of conversation.
Dr. Walfish says it’s important to keep your topic of conversation narrow: “When arguing, don’t mix apples with oranges. For example, when discussing finances, don’t allow talk about housework and children to creep into the conversation. Stay focused on one topic at a time.”
7) Use humor to your benefit.
It’s possible and even common to come across too “intense” or “businesslike” when addressing relationship issues, according to Dr. Walfish. “Instead, use humor! Humor can diffuse a rough situation and warm your partner up to you.”
8) Demonstrate the respect you desire.
Dr. Walfish advises you to, “model conflict resolution skills. You can’t expect your partner to be patient, courteous, and respectful unless you demonstrate the same when working out differences.”
9) Do your best to remain unbiased.
It’s important to, “position yourself as a mediator,” according to Dr. Walfish. “Do not judge, blame, or take sides, but rather validate and bear strong feelings.” This will teach your partner how to, “take turns listening, waiting, and tolerating the other person’s point of view,” as well.
10) Encourage emotional expression.
Dr. Walfish says it’s important to, “encourage expression of powerful feelings including hurt, sadness, anger, and embarrassment. The more you tolerate expression and emotional validation, the more willing the other will be to engage and enjoy a healthy relationship.”