By Lily Friedman
Communication is a key factor that can often make or break relationships. Some couples don’t know how to have an honest discussion or even ‘fight fairly’. Many times partners act out and make decisions on impulse, rather than with their head. They can get caught up in being right, instead of doing the right thing.
It happens to all of us.
Fortunately, there are plenty of simple exercises you can try at home – before bedtime or even during your time apart – to get your communication back on track.
1. First things first: start using statements like “I feel”
Using statements such as “I feel” helps to avoid placing blame on your partner and is a valuable practice in assertive communication. Stress management coach Elizabeth Scott explains that by communicating assertively, you strengthen your relationship, reduce stress and chances of conflict. Rather than saying “You screwed up” or “you should…”, start your statements with an “I feel”. This turns what could become potential blame into you expressing your feelings in a less accusatory manor.
Studies show I-language is less likely to trigger a defensive reaction than statements that use You-language or don’t communicate a clear perspective. Ultimately, I-statements help the other person better understand your viewpoint, which allows you to get your needs met without letting the negative emotions dominate the conversation.
2. Try making a ‘3 and 3’ list
Making a ‘3 and 3’ list is as simple as it sounds and is considered one of the most effective communication exercises for couples. Write three things you love about your partner but also three things you don’t like or wish they could improve upon. Have you and your partner split into separate rooms or even write your lists while away at work. Then come together and share your lists with each other. Make sure to praise your partner for their positive qualities and explain the points you dislike.
Marilyn McEntyre, professor of medical humanities at University of California, Berkeley, also suggests writing lists like “What I’ve noticed about you over the past year” and “What I want from you now” in order to enrich relationships. Don’t take too much to heart by understanding this will not only strengthen your communication, but also allow you to get your feelings off your chest in a respectful manner.
3. Share your daily highs and lows
Listening is a skill that often needs more practice than speaking. Sharing your daily highs and lows aids in verbal communication but so does active listening, which studies show create empathetic conversations and builds deep and positive relationships.
Conscious listening requires a genuine interest in your partner and typically involves non-verbal involvement, lack of judgement and paying genuine attention to the person speaking. To share your ‘highs and lows’, take turns talking about the good and bad parts of your day over dinner or before going to bed. This allows you both to fill each other in on important aspects of the day. Sharing your highs and lows allows the speaker to freely express themselves while demonstrating understanding and compassion for your partner.
4. When in doubt, seek couples therapy!
Seeking couples therapy is an exercise in and of itself. It may involve some convincing from your partner when it comes to how effective or worth it they think counseling may be. Remember, the cost to go to therapy may not even be about money. Explain to your partner how the value and benefits provided heavily outweigh the dollar signs. Relationship therapy can help you feel closer to your partner, rebuild your connection, and teach you strategies to communicate more effectively and efficiently.
Therapy is never something to run from. If you’re both just busy professionals or not comfortable seeking help in person, consider online therapy. Regain.Us, for instance, provides online counseling for individuals or couples without even having to leave the house. Therapy isn’t something to knock even if you are in a healthy relationship. Marriage counselors Anita Chipala and David Klow agree that therapy can help you prevent future conflict and teach you how to fight fair.