Whether we’re talking about intimate relationships between lovers, family dynamics, bonds with coworkers, or more relaxed interactions with long-term friends, communication in relationships is key to making those connections last. More accurately, effective communication is crucial to anyone’s ability to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with another person.
By nature, people want to feel as if they’re accepted and belong. Good communication can go a long way toward making the people you’re involved with feel as if you value and appreciate them. On the flip side, poor communication can make your loved ones and associates think you don’t care about them.
With communication being a foundational part of any relationship, it’s not overstating to say that working to acquire better communication skills can have life-changing benefits for you and the individuals with whom you have relationships. From improving your mental health to making your partner feel safe and secure, enriching the lives of your friends, and supporting your coworkers, improved communication styles are essential.
Use Conversation Prompts in Adventures From Scratch
If you’re looking for new, creative ways to connect with your partner, look no further than Adventures From Scratch: Date Edition. This source of over 50 activity ideas also includes interactive elements and suggestions for meaningful communication. Created by a team of exploration experts in collaboration with couples who have stood the test of time, it’s sure to help you to deepen your connection with your mate!
A Breakdown of Communication
Communication consists of two ways people relay messages to each other. The first method is verbal communication that includes your words and tone of voice while the second one is non-verbal cues. As you likely guessed, talking is how people verbally relay information and emotions to each other. Non-verbal communication encompasses all the other unspoken ways people communicate, such as facial expressions, posture, and hand gestures.
Healthy communication generally employs both means of relaying feelings and information. When your words and body language communicate the same message, it reduces the chances that miscommunications will occur, although it doesn’t eliminate the possibility altogether.
Individuals who don’t communicate to foster their personal or professional partnerships miss out on opportunities to share critical parts of themselves with others. When you shut down or limit communication, you prevent your relationships from growing and evolving. Sadly, a lack of communication can prevent relationships from lasting or being satisfying for anyone involved.
The Benefits of Healthy Communication
It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of communication as it relates to partnerships. Engaging in good communication can have some amazing benefits, which include:
- Greater respect: Effective communication can increase the respect you have for an associate and the respect your counterpart has for you. When respect is infused into a relationship, it can help both parties to speak their minds freely without the fear that they might be abandoned after they communicate openly.
- No guesswork: Honest communication enables your partner to know exactly what you’re thinking because it’s 100 percent transparent, meaning there are no lies and you don’t withhold information.
- Fewer Misunderstandings: When you communicate effectively in a relationship, you’ll enjoy fewer miscommunications, letdowns, and hurt feelings.
- Increased trust: Honest, open communication increases trust between the individuals involved in a relationship. Increased trust can help a relationship last and prosper through both challenging and good times.
- Enhanced emotional intimacy: By being a good communicator, you’ll open yourself up to greater emotional intimacy. That will allow you to be “there” for your partner and enable her to do the same during difficult times, and it will give you both the chance to celebrate spoken and unspoken victories.
- Heightened affection: Communicating in a relationship is somewhat like watering a flower. The more you water the plant, the more it thrives. Similarly, the more you communicate with another person, the more the affection the two of you share will grow.
- Improved mood: When you can openly communicate your thoughts and feelings with another person, your mood will naturally improve. Whether your partner is demonstrating empathy as you relay bad news or she’s celebrating one of your achievements, your mood will be lighter than it would be otherwise thanks to your expert communication skills.
Expectations and Boundaries
Another benefit that is a product of good communication is that you and your partner will be able to set clear, unmistakable expectations and boundaries. Whether you live in New York, another metropolis, or a small, rural town, clearly communicated boundaries and expectations are necessary for any relationship to be successful in the short and long term.
To underscore the importance of clear expectations and boundaries, let’s look at romantic relationships. If you haven’t told your boyfriend that you don’t want him to text other women and that you won’t tolerate flirtatious actions, how will he know those behaviors are inappropriate? Along the same line, how will you know that your partner expects you to pay half the rent for your shared living space and that he has no tolerance for people not pulling their own weight unless he tells you?
When you have communication issues, it can be difficult, if not impossible to set boundaries and expectations. Without those things, it’s unlikely a given relationship will ultimately have a positive outcome.
A Look at Over-Communication
While it may seem counterintuitive in a discussion of communication, there is such a thing as communicating too much. In general, people fall into two groups: introverts and extroverts. When they’re anxious, people in the former group often shut down and withdraw while those in the latter group are often guilty of communicating way too much information when they’re stressed.
Whether you tend to internalize or externalize your feelings when you’re engaged in conflict, it’s important to remember that neither the silent treatment nor over-communication is the same as meaningful communication. Introverts may want to take some time for themselves before they re-engage in a conversation, but they do need to re-engage at some point. Extroverts, on the other hand, may want to slow down and rethink their messages to avoid saying more just to hear their own voices.
Tips for Effective Communication in Relationships
In addition to knowing when to retreat from and re-engage in a conversation and being aware of the dangers of over-communication, there are a few things you can do to improve your communication skills. Whether you’re an educator who works with young kids, a self-employed contractor working from home, or you’re in another line of work in an entirely different type of environment, improving your communication skills can pay off on both personal and professional fronts.
1. Be Aware of Differing Communication Styles
If you stop and think about it, the way a person dresses says something about the individual. Observers in turn use that “statement” to make assumptions about the person. For example, if you saw a woman wearing a $1,000 suit, you may assume she’s heading to an important business meeting. If you notice an individual wearing a bathing suit, flip-flops, and a hat, you’d probably infer that the person was heading to the nearest pool or beach.
Just like clothing relays messaging, so does the way you communicate. When you employ a certain communication style, it relays information about your personality, current mood, and the sort of conversation you’re engaged in.
Similar to how fashion might be categorized as chic, hipster, or vintage, there are varying communication styles. Those styles fall into the following categories:
Although people usually have a primary communication style, no one is limited to just one type of communication. Depending on your mood, the impact you want your words to have, your audience, and other factors, you may discover that you’ll use different communication styles from time to time at least.
People who want to seem indifferent to the subject at hand often use passive communication. Individuals who simply want to keep the peace without having to share their honest opinions often adopt this style of communication. Passive communicators are prone to anxiety, depression, and resentment because they don’t voice their points of view. When they speak, passive communicators often display negative non-verbal cues, such as slouching and failing to make eye contact.
“What I think or feel doesn’t matter,” and “I don’t care what we do,” are common refrains uttered by passive communicators. When you’re in a relationship with someone who says things like that often, put forth greater effort to learn how the person really feels about the topic being discussed. If you are a passive communicator, remind yourself that your opinion matters and take time to collect your thoughts before you speak so you can present them with confidence using positive body language.
Whereas passive communication is on one end of the spectrum, aggressive communication is on the other. Aggressive communicators don’t hesitate to share their thoughts and opinions, and they often do so using a loud voice that’s meant to control and intimidate listeners. People who adopt this communication style normally maintain intense eye contact with audience members and they tend to stand their ground when opposing views are mentioned, assuming they listen to them, to begin with.
While it’s healthy to share your opinions and thoughts, aggressive communication is the antithesis of healthy communication. People don’t use aggressive communication simply to relay their thoughts. Instead, this communication style is employed to violate the rights of listeners in a manner that’s widely viewed as abusive. Even when listeners do what aggressive communicators demand of them, the speaker may still try to belittle them and make them feel unimportant.
“Why should I care about your opinion?” and “everyone should adopt my point of view” are things an aggressive communicator might say to inflict a wound, dismiss contrary viewpoints, and make someone feel small. If you overhear someone saying something similar, you should speak up and force the speaker to listen to your words. Are you an aggressive communicator? If so, you should do your best to express more empathy and a sincere willingness to listen to others.
This type of communication style is like a blend of the two styles discussed above. People employ this style of communication to passively seem as if they don’t have an opinion, but their messaging is relayed in an indirectly aggressive way.
Communicators who employ this means of communication sometimes mutter out loud under the guise of not wanting to be overheard. Passive-aggressive communicators are often reluctant to confront a person with a contrary viewpoint directly, but they’re usually quick to discuss the issue with someone who’s not part of the controversial conversation.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who uses this type of communication, they may tell you, “I don’t care, but [insert name] might give a damn,” or, “we can give your way a try, but I doubt it’s going to be successful.” As a general rule, people with this communication style are often worried about what others will think about their opinions, and they lack the security to disagree with others openly or directly.
When you hear someone make a statement that indicates they use this kind of communication, you have two basic options. You can encourage the speaker to tell you his opinion on the spot. Alternatively, you can try to determine how the individual really feels by deciphering the aggressive part of his statement. If you’re a passive-aggressive communicator, you need to stop beating around the bush, say what’s on your mind, stand behind your opinions, and stop worrying about what others think.
Experts agree that an assertive communication style is the most effective one. Assertive communicators relay their thoughts and opinions politely while respecting the viewpoints of others. People who communicate in this way have deep respect for the ideas, values, and opinions others hold dear. Assertive communicators normally speak in a calm, controlled voice as they look listeners directly in the eye.
People who employ this style of communication own their words and feelings by using sentences that include the pronoun “I.” Even when they disagree with someone, assertive communicators take responsibility for the blame by using “I” in their messaging.
Assertive communication supports two-way conversation, which is why it’s widely viewed as the most effective type of communication. This communication style often involves speakers who solicit feedback and employ active listening skills to facilitate the flow of conversation, information, and ideas.
“I think we should forge ahead,” “I respect your opinion even though it doesn’t align with mine,” or “what other options can you think of?” are some of the things you may hear an assertive communicator say. To be an assertive communicator, you need to be honest and a capable active listener who has an “agree to disagree” mindset. As the name of the communication style implies, you also need to be assertive with your thoughts and opinions while maintaining a polite, open-minded attitude.
2. Observe the Way Others Receive Your Messages
How people receive what you relay is a big part of communication in general. Some people respond to information by talking, crying, or getting mad. Others might respond by touching your arm or patting you on the back. While you might know how you respond to certain types of messaging already, you need to know how the people you’re in relationships with respond.
Knowing how a loved one reacts to certain types of information can help the two of you establish greater trust and enhance the physical and emotional intimacy you share. To improve the communication in romantic relationships, it can help to observe the way your partner receives messages for a few days.
Does your significant other respond most to visual cues? If so, she might not get the right message if you relay information using your words or other auditory cues. Instead, your partner might correctly interpret your message if you look her in the eyes, alternate between facial expressions, and make hand gestures. If your SO responds best to touch, you may want to rub her forearm or give her a hug while you’re telling her that you love her.
As you familiarize yourself with the way your SO responds to messages, you’ll be able to fine-tune the way you communicate with her. Better communication between the two of you can bring you closer together as a couple.
3. Go on Adventures Together
You can learn a lot about the way a person communicates by doing things with the individual. If you’re in an intimate relationship, we suggest you and your SO embark upon some adventures that will give you plenty of opportunities to communicate to secure a positive outcome.
Adventures from Scratch: Date Edition includes 50+ adventures that will require you and your partner to work together to complete. While each adventure has a different objective, they’re all fun and meant to deepen the bonds that exist between you and your significant other. Perfect for date nights and romantic day trips, our couples’ adventure book is a must-have for any duo trying to improve their communication.
Are you trying to improve the way you communicate with your kids as well as your partner? If so, we encourage you to order a copy of the Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition. Whereas our couples adventure book includes adult-themed adventures, our family adventure book includes challenges that are perfect for children of all ages.
Like our couples’ book, the family adventure book consists of a series of scratch-off challenges. Once you choose an adventure, you’ll scratch off your goal. After you know what your family needs to achieve, all your family members can work together to complete the challenge. As you all work together, everyone will have the chance to communicate their thoughts and ideas and receive messages from others, which can improve the way your family communicates overall.
4. Remain Cognizant of Basic Human Needs
Humans have six basic needs. Those needs include:
- Certainty: This need is what drives people to actively seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Ask your partner what makes her feel secure in your relationship and how you can help her feel stable and confident in your relationship.
- Variety: Mature couples need variety so that they can flourish along with their relationships. Variety will keep things fun and exciting for both you and your partner.
- Significance: Your SO needs to know that she’s important to you. With that in mind, you should prioritize telling your significant other that you need and want her in your life. You should also show your partner that she’s significant to you by supporting her ambitions and spending quality time with her.
- Connection and Love: Everyone needs connection and love to feel fulfilled. Knowing what love languages your SO is fluent in will enable you to connect with her and show her you love her in meaningful ways that will resonate powerfully.
- Growth: All humans crave growth in areas they’re passionate about. When you communicate effectively with your partner, the two of you can grow together. Even if you don’t share your partner’s interest in a given area, you can still support her efforts to evolve and expand her horizons.
- Contribution: The contributions you make over the course of your life combine to become your lasting legacy. If you’re like many others, you want your legacy to be one that includes love. When you communicate with your SO, you’ll identify ways to contribute more to your partner’s happiness and satisfaction.
While humans have the fundamental needs just mentioned in common, not everyone values each of them equally. For example, your SO may prioritize her need for connection and love more than she concerns herself with variety. The key to improving the way you communicate is to identify the needs that mean the most to your partner so you can communicate with her in a way that she’ll find fulfilling and satisfying.
It’s important to note that human needs vary according to elements of masculinity and femininity. People with masculine energy normally need to feel as if they’re appreciated, and you can relay that sentiment by praising your SO. Individuals with this sort of energy are independent and uninterested in being controlled. They’re also waiting for you to open up to them, so go ahead and share your affection and emotions openly.
By contrast, people with feminine energy need to feel as if they’re seen by their partners. You can convey that you see your SO by being fully present in the moments you share with her. Individuals with this type of energy also crave understanding and security. To show your SO you understand, validate her feelings. If you want your partner to feel safe and secure, protect her physically and emotionally while you reassure her.
Understand that masculine energy and femininity energies aren’t defined by gender, meaning a woman can have masculine energy just as readily as a man might have feminine energy. You need to figure out which type of energy your SO has so you can adjust the way you communicate with her so that both of you remain content in your relationship.
5. Break Negative Communication Patterns
Regardless of the nature of the relationship you share with someone, it’s crucial that you break any negative communication patterns you’ve adopted over the years. Speech basically consists of four components that are all within your control, pitch, pace, volume, and timbre. The next time you’re in a heated disagreement with someone, pay attention to those four things so you don’t perpetuate ineffective patterns that can permanently damage your relationships.
Pitch refers to whether your voice errs on the side of being squeaky or low and silky-smooth like the voice of James Earl Jones. If Darth Vader had told Luke that he was his father in a high-pitched tone, he may have come across as defensive. Even worse, Luke and the audience might have perceived him as immature.
If Vader had proclaimed, “Luke I am your father,” but ended the declaration at a high pitch, Luke might have thought his antagonist was asking whether his statement was true. That could have added more confusion and doubt to an already confusing situation.
Pace is a reference to how quickly or slowly you speak. If you’re in an argument and speak too quickly, your opponent may miss some of what you say and misinterpret your message as a result. That misinterpretation may lead to more arguing and hurt feelings.
To get your point across accurately, take a deep breath and slow down. Address your combatant in a calm manner with measured, slowly spoken words.
Volume accounts for how loudly you’re speaking. Too often, people engaged in a disagreement suffer from volume creep, which means they keep talking louder in an effort to drown out another person. That’s a shame because volume creep often leads to yelling, misunderstood messages, and hard feelings.
Remember, being louder than someone else is a far cry from being the superior communicator. If someone else is speaking, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying, be quiet and let the person finish instead of trying to talk over him.
Timbre refers to the tone of your voice along with the attitude and emotion your voice conveys. You need to pay close attention to your voice’s timbre so that you don’t deliberately or inadvertently send messages that have the potential to ruin the trust you’ve established with the person you’re speaking to.
Let’s go back to our galactic traveler Luke. If Darth Vader were a loving father and he’d said, “I love you, son,” or anything kind using a heartfelt voice, maybe his son would’ve embraced the Death Star. Since Darth Vader’s tone of voice was always menacing and he had a pretty bad attitude about the lives of others as was demonstrated when he tried to kill Luke and froze Hans Solo, Darth Vader probably would’ve benefited from lessons from a timbre coach.
6. Practice Active Listening
Being a good listener is key to maintaining healthy relationships. To be a good listener, you should practice active listening. Passively hearing what someone says is not the same as actively listening to the person’s message. Active listening is a manner of attentive listening that keeps you engaged throughout a conversation.
When you listen actively, you hear what’s being said without judging the message or the speaker. You resist filling silence with empty words. As an active listener, you never detract attention away from the speaker with silly anecdotes or tales of your own similar experiences.
You do ask questions about the topic at hand, however, and you verbally reflect on what’s been said. Active listeners demonstrate they’ve heard what was said by summarizing the information a speaker shares. Non-verbal communication is a big part of effective communication in general and active listening in particular as it allows you to show the speaker you’re fully immersed in what she has to say.
Active listeners are often like therapists. What that means is that they act as sounding boards. Instead of sharing their own throughs, opinions, and experiences, active listeners only speak when their words are directly and exclusively related to what a speaker has to say.
It’s important to recognize that listening actively is not the same as critical listening. In the case of the former, the point is to provide support, empathy, and understanding, not opinions or solutions. When it comes to critical listening, the goal is to evaluate what a speaker says so you can render an opinion about the message or offer a solution to the person’s problem.
When you’re actively listening to someone, you should refrain from switching the subject abruptly when the person has wrapped up their presentation. If you switch topics quickly, the speaker may feel as if you don’t care about the message she just delivered.
Frequently Asked Questions
Effective communication can have life-changing benefits for partners, including improvements in individuals’ mental health. Contrarily, a lack of communication in relationships could be extremely damaging.