“I’ve told you a hundred times…”
“You’re not hearing me!”
“I can’t believe you’re mad at me for that!”
“Why don’t you just LISTEN to me for once?!”
How many times has a conversation with your partner or spouse devolved into those words? Conflict is inevitable in every relationship, romantic or otherwise, but it’s never a good feeling when your other half feels more like an adversary than a teammate. It’s harder to walk away or let it blow over, especially now that the pandemic has forced us all to be closer than ever! (At least, closer in proximity.)
No matter what topic starts a fight, you can’t find resolve without communication. And if you and/or your partner/spouse lack communication skills, conflicts will almost certainly be a part of your usual routine. Sure, there may be significant issues in your lives that contribute to arguments and tension in your relationship, but poor communication – or lack thereof – can transform those issues from significant to insurmountable.
If you or your partner/spouse feel that tensions crop up in your lives more often than you’d like or feel that miscommunication is just a part of daily lives, you need to re-examine how you approach these issues as a couple. Rather than pushing further down the path that you’re on, just waiting for another inevitable argument, it’s time to change the way you communicate.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Translate Your Feelings
Your partner/spouse can’t read your mind, much like you can’t read theirs! We often get frustrated when our feelings aren’t understood, or when we feel that we aren’t heard, so we choose to withhold our feelings instead of expressing them differently. But withholding your emotions is a great disservice to your partner/spouse and your marriage or love relationship. If you want your partner/spouse to hear you, truly hear you, you need to translate your feelings in a way that helps them understand you.
When you have an emotion bubbling up in your chest, focus on translating that feeling into words that your partner can understand. Paint a mental picture, finding a phrase or metaphor that describes your emotions so that your partner/spouse can comprehend and connect with those feelings. You could even sketch out your feelings on a notepad! Even if your words don’t make total sense, try to articulate your emotions as best you can – it’s better than shutting down and shutting your partner/spouse out.
2. Steer Clear of “Yes or No” Questions
Communication is a two-way street, so now that you’ve expressed your feelings, you need to create space for your partner/spouse to do the same. Your first instinct may be to ask, “Do you feel the same way?” or, “Does that make you feel [sad, angry, scared, etc.].” While you may have the best intentions, these “Yes or no” questions pose a problem: they limit your partner’s expression of their own feelings.
Instead of asking questions with only one or two possible answers, ask your partner/spouse open-ended questions that allow them to dig into their emotions. Ask them things like, “What’s your best-case scenario here?” or “Help me understand what you’re thinking right now? Tell me what you’re feeling.” Asking questions with this open-ended style allows your partner or spouse the same courtesy of translating their feelings so that you can understand and connect with them more deeply. It will enable your partner to feel heard and truly articulate their emotions – which will help both of you feel a sense of resolution or relief!
3. Turn Toward Each Other
When conflict arises, most people’s first reaction is to turn away from their partner, walking out of the room, or avoiding the issue altogether. If this behavior pattern continues, nothing will ever get resolved — communication often breaks down entirely!
Rather than turning away from your partner when things get heated, make the conscious choice to turn toward each other. Be receptive to each other’s needs and signals for connection. This principle doesn’t just apply to moments of tension, either — it’s most effective when it becomes a habit! Small moments in your mundane, day-to-day routines are the building blocks of your connection. Practice expressing and receiving bids for connection, and turn toward each other in those moments. Turning toward each other in those small moments make big moments of disconnection much less daunting, since you’ve practiced communicating dozens of times before!
4. Don’t Resolve Conflict — Manage It
Like we said earlier, conflict is inevitable. And when we learn to navigate conflict together as a couple – communicating clearly with our partner/spouse – we can channel that conflict into positive, functional growth! For this reason, we need to shift our mindset around conflict. Instead of resolving it, our goal is to manage conflict.
When we adopt this mindset, we recognize conflict itself isn’t detrimental to our romantic relationship – as long as you both commit to managing it. By that same token, managing conflict helps you and your partner identify which issues in your relationship are solvable problems (easier to manage) and which ones are perpetual problems (chronic issues that you may always be working on navigating better). Once you’ve defined those problems, you can dig into the perpetual issues and work towards managing them better together.
5. Express Empathy
No matter what problems you and your partner/spouse experience, the key is to express empathy. Following the steps mentioned above will help you express and communicate your emotions to each other, but expressing empathy clarifies that those feelings matter. Expressing empathy tells your partner/spouse that you don’t just hear them — you understand and care about them deeply.
When your partner/spouse expresses their feelings to you, try not to just nod at them with a vacant stare on your face, already planning what to say next. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge the words they said and how those emotions resonate with you. Empathy cultivates trust, which will only help make communication that much easier over time!
If you need couples therapy or marriage therapy in NYC, the Loving at Your Best Plan is here to help you and your spouse/partner navigate times of conflict. Using techniques rooted in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and Schema Therapy, our welcoming, professional team of expert marriage therapists in NYC will provide support and therapeutic approaches to lead you to the best season of your relationship yet.