Honey, We Need to Talk

How we communicate with our partner can make or break a relationship

“I was excited because we were finally going on a holiday after months of planning. It had been hard for my girlfriend and I to take leave from work at the same time but we had finally managed. When we checked into our hotel, I went down to the reception to find out about sight-seeing options, leaving my girlfriend to settle into the room. When I returned, she seemed withdrawn. I asked her what was wrong and to my surprise she started crying. She accused me of not wanting to spend time with her and instead going off on my own as soon as we arrived. I tried to explain to her that I was just trying to explore things to do on the holiday. Instead of pacifying her, my words made her more upset. She complained that ‘I always needed to do things’ and was not happy with just being with her. She went on to say that I never had time for her and that I was a selfish person. It really hurt to hear her say that, especially after all the effort I had made to plan the holiday. In retaliation, I told her she was ungrateful and mean, and left the room. Things just went downhill from there and our happy holiday turned into a horrible, unpleasant mess.”

When we are in a romantic relationship, we often assume that our partner will be on the same mental wavelength as us most, if not all, of the time.  However, even if two people are extremely compatible, it is humanly impossible for them to think and feel the same for an extended period of time. Therefore, communication becomes extremely important to keep any relationship moving in the same direction.

Each relationship falls into its own communication pattern over time. Eventually, we stop paying attention to what we’re saying and how it could be affecting our partner. Here are some ways in which you can prevent communication breakdowns in your relationship.

Language: Pay attention to the words you use while talking to your partner, especially during arguments and fights. Are you prone to name-calling? Do you end up labeling your partner with words, such as “selfish,” “mean,” horrible” etc.? Do you use generalisations, such as “you always do this” or “you never understand”? If yes, then you might be slowly pushing your partner away by making them feel bad about their own self. If your partner is focused only on the hurt they are feeling, they are less likely to focus on the more relevant content of the conversation.

Mood: Avoid starting conversations on sensitive topics or volatile issues when you are in a bad mood or are unwell. Your pre-existing irritability, anger or sadness can colour the conversation with the same mood. For example, if you are already feeling angry about something that happened during the day, then you are more likely to get upset about something your partner says. Postpone important discussions to times when you are feeling better.

Assumptions and mind-reading: No matter how evolved we feel our relationship is, most of us fall prey to the “you should’ve known” syndrome. This is when assume that our partner will automatically guess what we are thinking or feeling without us having to say it in explicit words. When this expectation is not met, we feel misunderstood and hurt. Instead of expecting our partner to read our minds, it’s usually better to clearly communicate what you want or need. This helps avoid misunderstandings and your partner feels less pressurised to guess what you’re thinking.

Unresolved issues: Make time for regular conversations, especially on important matters. Insufficient communication can lead to a piling up of concerns. When there is too much to address at one go or if there are unresolved issues underneath, the current conversation can go off on different tangents, which might not be relevant to the matter at hand. Regular communication also helps strengthen the relationship bond and keep you connected with your partner’s thoughts and feelings.

When our communication is based on kindness, objectivity and open listening, we give our partner the respect and importance they deserve. With that as a foundation, the relationship can grow and flourish into a healthy one.