Does it seem as if you and your partner are going round-and-round, always arguing but never actually communicating? Constant arguing can be a drain on a relationship, and if left unaddressed, can lead to a breakup. However, there are ways that both of you can improve communication skills, and move past the arguing.
Take a Break When Things Get Heated
If you or your partner notice that the conversation is getting heated or drifting into an argument, take a time-out. By signaling that you need a break you can “hit the brakes” so-to-speak, and avoid getting locked into an argument. Research shows that a break of 30 – 40 minutes will give the mind and body a chance to equalize. Both of you take a 30 minutes apart to calm down, then restart the discussion when both of you are ready. Giving each other a break and then returning to discuss the issue calmly will reinforce a level of trust and connections, rather than distance and feeling abandoned.
Remember to Slow Down When Talking
Have you ever noticed yourself or your partner beginning to talk faster when things escalate? This could be another sign that the conversation is drifting. To prevent this, be conscious of how you are talking and speak deliberately.
Know How You Communicate Non-verbally
Be aware of how you present yourself non-verbally, as this can say just as much, if not more so, than what your words. For instance:
Be aware of facial expressions, such as smiles, frowns, eye-rolls, etc.
Do you have a nervous tic, such as bouncing your knee, chewing a pencil, or tapping your finger?
Do you shake your head when you disagree with something?
Do you sigh whenever you feel frustrated or overwhelmed?
Conversely, be aware how your partner communicates nonverbally too.
Actually Listen to Your Partner
It can be frustrating hearing your partner speak. You may want to jump in to “correct” them whenever you feel they are mistaken. Yet, an important communication skill is listening fully to what your partner has to say. When we interrupt whoever is speaking we are are invalidating them and signaling that we aren’t interested in their perspective.
Repeat Back What Your Partner Says
Another way to improve communication skills is to say back to your partner what they have just said. This can help you to better remember what their point, and demonstrates that you have been listening. Of course, you don’t have to sound like a robot, but simply summarizing what was shared can help improve communication.
Stay Calm When Talking
Just like with remembering to slow down, knowing how to stay calm in a tense discussion can help improve communication skills, and keep it from becoming an argument. Some ideas to stay calm include:
Remembering to breathe! Focus on inhaling and exhaling.
Maintaining eye contact.
Being mindful of your emotions when they come up, without reacting to them.
Practice Communication Skills Often
You’ve heard the old phrase, “Practice makes perfect,” right? A great way to improve communication skills is to communicate often with your partner. Consider setting aside a time each night, perhaps after the kids are asleep, to talk with your partner, reviewing the events of the day. Do this without other distractions, like TVs or cell phones.
Consider Attending Couples Counseling
Going to see a therapist trained in couples counseling can be a helpful way to better understand how to improve communication skills as a couple. Your therapist, working together with you and your partner, can help bring to light any unhelpful learned behaviors, as well as coach you both on specific communication skills.
Learning how to effectively communicate with your partner can take time, and it doesn’t mean that you will avoid having disagreements. That’s part of the process of being in a relationship. Both of you can improve communication skills individually and as a couple, so that when the time comes you don’t slip into an argument, but resolve the conflict together instead.
For additional information on improving communication, visit Phil Fauerbach’s Couples Counseling page. To schedule an appointment for couples counseling please call Philip J Fauerbach, LMHC at (813) 651-1221.