One of the most common complaints between partners in a romantic relationship is poor communication. Let's face it, communication is hard work and can be even more challenging in emotional situations. Ironically, it's often with just those people we love the most that we slip in our efforts to maintain clear and empathic communication. We may feel the need to defend our position, or even defend ourselves, when working through relationship issues. It's important to remember that you and your partner are on the same team! Keep in mind these 4 basic tasks in a loving relationship:
With those basics in mind, we can move to a little more advanced skill level. First, when you have an issue to discuss with your partner, it's important to set up the discussion in a way to increase the probability of a respectful resolution. Too often, we bombard one another at whatever time seems right for us, as an individual, to discuss something. Make an appointment by letting your partner know that you'd like to talk about a specific issue and ask when is a good time. An example may be, "I'm feeling upset about your comment about my family the other night and I'd like to talk about it. When would be a good time for you to discuss this?" The appointment should not be put off longer than a few days and both partners need to have an understanding of the "ground rules" of appointment setting prior to the need to set an appointment.
In working to resolve conflict, both partners need to remember the goal of working together. That means listening completely while your partner is speaking as opposed to thinking about how you will respond. Realize that in most problem areas, both parties may need to make some behavior changes in order to resolve the larger issue. One partner should not always be the one to "fix" things. That leads to resentments later down the line. Clarifying what your partner is saying and what agreement for change you've made as a couple are important pieces as well. Try to reflect what your partner may be feeling and not saying, as much as what she/he is actually saying. Keep in mind that you can be supportive of your partner even if you don't agree with his or her position. For example, "I hear that you believe I meant something else by that statement. I guess if I thought you were saying that to me, I'd be angry too. This is what I meant to say."
Finally, too often in conflicts with partners, we may get into a win-lose attitude. Whenever we need to "win" more than we need to enhance the relationship, both partners come out losers. In every relationship there are three entities: you, your partner and the relationship. Working toward making the relationship come out ahead increases the odds that each partner will "win" as well. When your partner has to "lose", it becomes a battle and the relationship loses. Keeping the focus on the issue, as opposed to your partner's personality, also improves the chances of maintaining a win-win attitude. Avoid throwing in everything but the kitchen sink or you will get off track and anger will ensue. Pick one topic at a time to resolve. Good communication takes effort and those we love deserve the time and effort to maintain effective and empathic communication.